Saudi Arabia has begun talks with Six Flags Entertainment Corp to build theme parks, the company said on Tuesday, as part of the kingdom’s efforts to expand its tourism sector and diversify the economy.
Developing the leisure sector is fraught with difficulties in a deeply conservative country that adheres to a strict social code where women are barred from driving, cinemas are banned and public spaces are gender segregated.
But Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made tourism part of an economic diversification plan he outlined in April, called Vision 2030.
U.S.-based Six Flags has started talks with the Saudi government to build parks in the kingdom following recent meetings with Prince Mohammed, the company said in a statement.
Chief executive John Duffey said in a television interview last week that Six Flags, which operates 18 parks in North America, wanted to open a park in Saudi Arabia via a partnership without disclosing further details.
To do so, Six Flags would have needed to work with Dubai Parks and Resorts, which holds exclusive rights via parent firm Meraas to develop and operate Six Flags-branded theme parks in the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which include Saudi Arabia.
However, Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who owns Meraas, announced in a separate statement on Tuesday that Dubai Parks would waive its right to exclusivity in Saudi Arabia.
Sheikh Mohammed said the decision was in line with his commitment to “free movement of knowledge and expertise between Arab economies.”
Saudi Arabia, home to the holy city of Mecca, welcomes millions of tourists for religious purposes every year, but non-religious foreign tourists are extremely rare. Any Six Flags park, however, would likely mostly serve the kingdom’s estimated 28 million citizens, of which about two-thirds are under 30.
It is unclear whether the company would tailor its rides, which include water slides, to Saudi’s social codes.
Dubai Parks and Resorts is building four theme parks in Dubai including a Six Flags park.
Dubai Parks’ CEO Raed al-Nuaimi told Reuters on Monday that his company had no immediate plans to develop other Six Flags parks in the Gulf.
His company’s Dhs 10.5bn ($2.9bn) main complex is due to open in Dubai in October. It will include Legoland, Bollywood and Hollywood-inspired theme parks, plus a water park and a hotel.
Dubai Parks will also soon break ground on Six Flags Dubai, which will be built nearby. It is slated to open in 2019.