Saudi Arabia: Is this the world’s most inspiring regenerative tourism initiative?

    04 May 2022

    With its pristine coral reefs and dizzying array of marine life, the Red Sea is said to have been the favourite diving destination of the “father of scuba diving” Jacques Cousteau.

    It’s perhaps little wonder then that Saudi Arabia brought in Philippe Cousteau Jr, grandson of the world-famous French marine explorer, to help with plans to develop a luxury tourism destination on 50 islands in the Red Sea.

    “The coral reef is the fourth largest in the world. It is very healthy and we are committed to protecting the health of the reef,” says Tracey Lanza, Group Head of Global Branding for The Red Sea Development Company.

    But this doesn’t just mean maintaining the health of the reef. “We are committed to enhancing the biodiversity 100 per cent.”

    The Red Sea Project is a regenerative tourism destination being built along Saudi Arabia’s northwest coast, alongside the Amaala resort.

    It is full of mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes and has many cultural sites located along an ancient trade route.

    Going beyond sustainability

    Both projects are part of the country’s efforts to diversify its economy by boosting new sectors such as green tourism.

    “The Red Sea development company is responsible for – what I think – is the world’s most inspiring, most committed regenerative tourism initiative,” says Lanza.

    “And what we mean by regenerative is not just sustainability. We don’t just want to stop any loss. What we want to do is build to make the destination better than we found it.”

    The site has a Landscape Nursery, which will provide more than 15 million plants for the destination.

    “So we really are looking at this as a complete change in how tourism happens in Saudi Arabia and leading by example for the rest of the world,” she adds.

    One of the things the company has already started to do is to teach local people skills within the hospitality sector. “Whether it’s airlines, whether it’s hoteliers. It’s teaching them what hospitality is all about”.

    Amaala and the Red sea Project

    The two projects have slightly different focuses.

    Amaala is about culture and arts, wellbeing and sports. It will feature a sports performance academy, facilities including equestrian, polo, camel racing, falconry, golf, and tennis.

    The Red Sea project will be about sustainability and what they call ‘barefoot luxury’, which means being in touch with the land, the beaches, the desert and diving.

    It will offer a number of different experiences, from island getaways to resort holidays, mountain retreats and desert adventures.

    Recently launched Desert Rock, for example, features a luxury spa, fitness centre, remote dining areas and guests will be able to hike, use dune buggies, and stargaze in the mountains.

    But most of all it’s a coastal experience, with snorkelling and diving at the beach.

    Where should you stay?

    The destination will include hotels, residential properties, and leisure and entertainment facilities that are committed to sustainability.

    The Red Sea Development Company recently signed nine luxury hotels up to the first phase of the project – Edition Hotels, St Regis Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts, SLS Hotels & Residences, Grand Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Six Senses and Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts.

    So there are plenty of options depending on your price point.

    “It’s thrilling, this is not just creation and construction this is commitment from some of the most interesting and beautiful hoteliers in the world,” said Lanza.

    The first guests of the Red Sea will be welcomed in late 2022 and no more than a million guests at a time will be expected.

    “This won’t be a las vegas experience. It will be a luxury destination, but especially since COVID, luxury is also about the experience.”

    How can you get there sustainably?

    “Airlines are a priority for us, and we are looking at different ways such as microalgae and microtechnologies to build better biofuels,” explains Lanza.

    “That’s not something that we have in place right now, but that is the kind of thing we are looking at.”

    An international airport is being developed “using responsible building practices” that is set to serve the one million annual tourists expected by 2030.

    The project is “not going to be built and done,” adds Lanza. “It will continue to evolve and continue to grow.

    “I think that the goal is to bring these best practices to the world of travel so they become benchmarks for other destinations to use.”


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