With its oil economy tanking, Saudi Arabia is searching for new ways to make money. Although the country is mostly desert, has a worldwide reputation for its ultra-conservatism and does not issue tourist visas to non-Muslims, the kingdom has settled on tourism as a focus for the future.
On Monday, that ambition got a lift when the chief executive of Six Flags Entertainment announced that his company, famed for its chain of theme parks, would be investing in Saudi Arabia.
Without giving any specifics, John Duffey said: "We're very honored to be provided with an opportunity to enter into a partnership to bring Six Flags to the kingdom. ... Our parks can provide the entertainment to which Saudis aspire."
It is unclear whether a Six Flags theme park in Saudi Arabia would adhere to the kingdom's strict codes, such as limits on mingling between men and women. But it is possible.
An outline of economic diversification called "Vision 2030" that has been promoted mostly by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman calls for tourism spending to increase from $8 billion to $46 billion by 2020. Tourism infrastructure is strongest around the pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina, which may make them likely candidates for a new theme park. But Saudi Arabia is also trying to stem the flow of its own citizens' search for entertainment abroad. Neighboring Qatar and United Arab Emirates have made a global name for themselves as shopping and entertainment destinations, and they both draw plenty of Saudis.
The "Vision 2030" plan makes it clear that the kingdom sees increasing entertainment options as a way of catering to the expanding desires of its citizenry. "We consider culture and entertainment indispensable to our quality of life," the plan says. "We are well aware that the cultural and entertainment opportunities currently available do not reflect the rising aspirations of our citizens and residents."
On social media, some were quick to point out the strangeness of the news that a company so directly associated with care-free, summertime fun in the United States would be moving into a country in which morality police roam the streets.
Meanwhile, the deputy crown prince is on the next leg of a U.S. trip to pitch the kingdom's attempts to move away from its dependence on oil revenue. After a week of meetings in Washington, he heads to Silicon Valley to meet with technology company executives. After that, he heads to New York for sessions with Wall Street investors.