Walpole Worldwide

Representing British luxury in Riyadh

Last week, Walpole's Charlotte Keesing was part of the luxury delegation at GREAT Futures 2024 in Riyadh – an event to mark the start of a year-long campaign between the UK and Saudi Arabia to promote cultural and business collaboration. Here, Keesing write about her key takeaways from the event and what British brands need to know about working in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC
23rd May 2024
Walpole Worldwide Representing British luxury in Riyadh

From many of our conversations with members, we know the importance of the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to their businesses – as seen in our recent Luxury in the Making study, it’s one of the fastest growing regions for British luxury and now our third largest export market. Here at Walpole, we have a long-standing and incredibly supportive relationship with Chalhoub Group, an organisation that has helped to create numerous opportunities for our members and provide unparalleled expertise and insight into the various markets, retail landscape and customers in the region. As Jasmina Banda, Chalhoub's Group Strategy Officer, highlighted at the most recent Walpole British Luxury Summit, Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic markets in the GCC. With a passion for luxury and a young population (65% of its citizens are under the age of 35), it's where leading players are investing heavily with high-profile events and creative experiences.

As such it was a honour to be invited by British Government and the GREAT campaign to represent British luxury at the GREAT Futures 2024 launch event in Riyadh last week – the start of a year-long campaign between the UK and Saudi Arabia to promote cultural and business collaboration. The event brought together over 750 leaders from the UK and Saudi Arabia and was designed to showcase the UK’s expertise and ability to support Saudi Arabia deliver against Saudi Vision 2023 – a strategy to drive economic and societal change across the country.

GREAT Futures united the very best of British entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity with celebrated artists, musicians, designers, creatives and business leaders from education, finance, technology, hospitality and tourism. Representing the British luxury sector, Walpole hosted one of the key sessions in the programme. Entitled 'Luxury 2030', the panel featured speakers Michael Ward, Managing Director of Harrods, Anabela Chan, Founder and CEO of Anabela Chan, Coco Baraer Panazza, CEO of MyWardrobeHQ (both alumni of our Brands of Tomorrow mentorship programme), and Mazroua Al-Mazroua, Chief Marketing & Experience Officer, KAFD (pictured below).

Together, we took at an in-depth look at the priorities that will shape the sector’s growth of the next five years, exploring the influence of Gen Z, the evolution of experiential retail and innovation, the critical importance of positive impact and sustainability, and supporting next generation talent.

Additionally, as part of the two-day programme, we took part in roundtables looking at tourism, covering the position of UK’s luxury travel and hospitality offer, and the role of luxury as an important driver of high-end tourism.

Over the past decade, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made moves to open up its society, focusing especially on female empowerment. Its now home to some of the world’s largest initiatives, including five giga-projects in which they will have invested more than $3tn by 2030. Encapsulated in Vision 2030, the scale of the ambition, clarity of strategy and energy has to be experienced in person to properly appreciated. In my short time in Riyadh, I was struck by the fact that Saudi Arabia is a country that is in rapid transition – and the transformation that has already been achieved in a short space of time is remarkable, particularly in relation to the important role that women play within this.

Spending time with the people who are playing leading roles in the strategic pillars was fascinating. I was lucky enough to spend an evening with Paul Pacifico, the dynamic CEO of the Saudi Music Commission, and the scale of ambition for supporting the music and culture scene, as well as musical education in schools and bringing in international musicians to Saudi is inspiring – especially given the context that just five years ago, public performances of music was prohibited.

I also spent time with the His Excellency Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, and Her Highness Princess Haifa Bint Mohammed Al Saud, Deputy Minister of Tourism. The investment into the tourism offer across the country is extraordinary – I think I counted at least 30 new five-star hotels being built across the giga-projects – and a desire to build world class experiences for both regional and international visitors.

Finally, I got a strong sense of national pride. The fashion community is a major example of this with Riyadh Fashion Week, which spotlights a diverse line up of designers and creatives, launched last year, and plans for Resort shows later this year, not to mention a campaign to support 100 emerging designers from the region.

My sense from my short visit is that there are great opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC for British brands that are ready to engage and work collaboratively to co-create opportunities together. The scale, ambition, vision and desire for change for future generations is undeniably energising.

On behalf of Walpole and our members I’d like to thank the teams at GREAT, the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the local teams in Riyadh for their ambition and hard work to create GREAT Futures. It was a highly impactful and valuable programme, and a privilege for Walpole and the British luxury sector to be part of this ambitious programme of collaboration.

If you have questions about our work with the luxury sector in the GCC, please email Charlotte Keesing below
Email here


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