Saudi Arabia has announced plans to spend billions on building new venues and flying in Western acts, in a total overhaul of its entertainment sector that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging program of social and economic reforms driven by its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

At a glitzy media conference in Riyadh on Thursday, the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) chief, Ahmad bin Aqeel al-Khatib, told reporters the kingdom was to invest $64bn in its entertainment sector over the coming decade.

“We are already building the infrastructure,” Khatib said, adding that ground had been broken for an opera house.

He said hundreds of new companies had sprung up over the past year, registering for licences to take advantage of the budding sector.

“God willing, you will see a real change by 2020,” the entertainment chief said, adding that more than 5,000 events were planned for the coming year.

The funding for new infrastructure and entertainment offerings would come from the government and the private sector, he said.

Behind Khatib, a screen highlighted the names of international acts such as Maroon 5, Andrea Bocelli and Cirque du Soleil.

Neither a breakdown of how the money would be spent nor a schedule for the cultural program was provided.

But it follows a series of events in recent months including concerts, a Comic-Con festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that had people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

Authorities have also announced plans to lift a decades-old ban on cinemas this year, and about 300 are expected to open by 2030.