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Paradise found: Conserving and leveraging Saudi’s natural bounty

How the world’s most ambitious sustainable hospitality project is being brought to life

Imagine taking one of the world’s last “secret” paradises – a 200km stretch of coastline dotted with 90 pristine islands, ancient coral reefs and rare wildlife – and opening it to tourism. 

That’s what Red Sea Global (RSG) is doing as part of a mission to set new standards in responsible development.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but making this virtually untouched archipelago a tourism destination will actually help to preserve these natural resources through regenerative projects and technologies.

The move will also stimulate economic growth and job creation while adding a new destination to the eco-luxury map – The Red Sea on Saudi Arabia’s northwestern coast. 

Part of RSG’s multi-project portfolio covering a total of 28,000 km, the resort is the size of Belgium. 

Bordering six Asian and African countries and noted for its crystal-clear waters, the Red Sea is one of the world’s most popular diving and snorkelling destinations, and has the fourth-largest barrier reef. 

The destination area is largely unexplored with many endemic species, adding to its allure. 

But it’s a fair question: just how can global travel, with its heavy carbon footprint, increased demand on food, water, energy and other resources, impact on local life and stress on infrastructure, flora and fauna and be sustainable in the long term? 

The answer: approach development in a way that considers the myriad interconnected aspects in the authentic life of a place.

Here’s how we’re building the world’s most ambitious sustainable hospitality project.

Measurable benefits

Step one is aligning with forces shaping a new Saudi Arabia, notably Vision 2030, a transformation blueprint that is diversifying the national economy by developing strategic sectors including renewable energy and tourism, and enacting social reforms. 

PIF, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds and owner of The Red Sea giga-project, is a major economic catalyst for the vision. 

Another factor is the Saudi Green Initiative, aligned with global net neutrality goals and integrating environmental protection, clean energy and sustainability. 

From this basis, policies and programmes specific to the Red Sea help to ensure that tourism qualifies as sustainable by yielding a net environmental benefit.  

Accordingly, RSG has committed to the UN Sustainable Development goals.

The Red Sea is leaving 75 percent of the natural archipelago untouched. The 22 islands and inland locations to be developed will eventually offer 8,000 hotel rooms and 1,300 luxury hotel-branded residences, but the number of visitors will be capped at one million annually by 2030. 

Red Sea Global John PaganoRed Sea Global
Three-quarters of the area’s natural archipelago will remain untouched

Run entirely on renewable solar energy in its first phase, the overall project’s public-private utilities partnership covers power, potable and wastewater treatment, solid waste management and cooling for the resort’s hotels and airport.

A battery storage facility will be the largest in the world at 1,200 megawatt-hours, ensuring the destination remains off-grid even at sundown. More than 740,000 solar panels are already installed at the destination’s solar farms.

We have built the largest constructed wetlands to treat our wastewater, which not only creates additional habitats but also provides treated water to irrigate our landscape.

A different kind of pollution is being tackled by The Red Sea’s bid to become the world’s largest certified International Dark Sky Reserve, protecting the nocturnal environment through innovative lighting design. 

Light pollution, also called artificial light at night, can present issues, especially for marine life as it can obscure the stars and moon, disorienting sea turtles during nesting and hatching stages, and affecting migratory bird navigation, fish reproduction and coral spawning.

The human aspect

The “think globally, act locally” ethos, importantly, extends to the people who live and work in the region. 

Tourism typically generates positives such as spending and jobs, but true sustainability calls for a strategic approach to developing local talent. Comprehensive, structured training can open career paths, building competencies and job satisfaction. 

In line with its operational needs, RSG offers vocational training and educational assistance, including partnerships with Saudi and international universities to help young Saudis launch luxury hospitality and tourism careers. Graduates then work for RSG or one of its partner companies. 

This human investment not only creates a future-ready workforce, it supports national objectives for economic opportunity and social development. 

A web of life

The naturalist John Muir once said: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The sea is certainly a microcosm of the world, as are coral reefs – the fragile, essential ecosystems on which all life depends. 

These interdependent webs generate oxygen, regulate climate, provide food and livelihoods, even medicines. 

Similarly, ensuring that development and preservation can work hand in hand calls for a chain of standards, policies and programmes in a seamless continuum that enables economic growth, prevents environmental loss and degradation, reduces waste, supports sustainable resource use and celebrates cultural identity.

In short, a new development model that puts people, planet and community first.

John Pagano is group CEO of Red Sea Global. He is based in Riyadh         

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