Combining luxury, sustainability and a string of nature reserves showcasing Saudi Arabia’s coastal terrain, The Red Sea Project is one of the flagship tourism giga-projects in the Kingdom that will stretch across an archipelago of more than 90 islands once completed.
Cityscape Intelligence speaks to John Pagano, CEO of The Red Sea Development Company – who recently emerged winners in the Leisure and Hospitality category in the Cityscape Intelligence KSA Awards.
HOW IS THE PROJECT CONTRIBUTING TO SAUDI ARABIA'S VISION 2030 GOALS?
The Saudi Vision 2030 program lays out the framework to diversify the economy with three main themes: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. Tourism is a central pillar of achieving this plan and The Red Sea Project is at the forefront of the growth of this sector.
The Red Sea Project is contributing to this vision by collaborating with the Kingdom’s most advanced minds coupled with international expertise to pioneer the world’s first regenerative tourism destination. This development is the country’s flagship tourism initiative and presents significant opportunities for both local communities and the wider economy.
Current predictions show that by 2030 the contribution of tourism to the GDP of Saudi Arabia will be closer to the global average of 10%, compared to the 3.4% it represents now. The Red Sea Project alone is set to contribute SAR 22 billion (USD 5.8bn) to the Kingdom’s GDP once fully operational. It will also be a significant creator of jobs and will employ around 70,000 people either directly, indirectly or induced.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED AND WHAT NOVEL SOLUTIONS HAVE YOU COME UP WITH IN THE PLANNING/BUILDING OF THE PROJECT?
At The Red Sea Development Company, we’re committed to setting new standards in sustainable development through a regenerative approach to tourism. Ensuring that this philosophy is built into every stage of planning and development is a significant task, but something we constantly strive to achieve.
A large proportion of what we are doing at The Red Sea Project has never been done before in Saudi Arabia or even anywhere else in the world - our approach to infrastructure and assets is very new. This not only challenges us, but also challenges the contractors we work with to come up with new solutions.
Our strict sustainability commitments mean for any development works we carry out we must ensure that the habitat and wildlife are protected at all costs. Whilst challenging, this commitment to protecting the environment has resulted in us exploring a number of innovative solutions. For instance, before construction even began, we undertook a ground-breaking Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) exercise which helped us to decide which areas of the 28,000 Km2 site would be developed.
We were able to model the environmental impact of the development and operation of the destination, shaping our Master Plan which predicts a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040, based on the design, approach to construction and future operations of the destination.
Becoming the country’s first tourism destination to run entirely on renewable energy is also no mean feat. To ensure we can power the entire development from wind and solar sources, we are building the world’s largest battery storage facility, which enables us to generate power 24/7 without having to rely on the national grid.
The location and sheer size of the project is also particularly challenging, and we have a variety of landscapes and topographies to consider. From the mountain resort we are building, to the overwater villas, no two parts of the site are the same, which is why the infrastructure must adapt. For instance, in order to create our Desert Rock mountain resort, we’re having to physically build the rooms and hotels into the mountain side around huge rocks and valleys.
By adopting such a cautious approach to problem solving in partnership with industry leaders, we have overcome the most adverse challenges and spearheaded revolutionary solutions to create a truly sustainable project.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOUR ORGANISATION TO WIN THIS AWARD AND WHAT FEATURE ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
We are extremely proud that The Red Sea Project’s contributions to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals have been formally recognized by Cityscape Intelligence. This award is a testament to the pioneering mindset we have adopted from the outset, and all the hard work we have put in to ensure sustainable considerations are at the heart of everything we do.
Our Coral Bloom concept, created by leading international architects Foster + Partners, is something we are tremendously proud of, and being able to reveal the stunning designs is one of our greatest achievements to date.
From conception, it was paramount that Coral Bloom blended in with the natural environment and did not disturb the existing wildlife around Shurayrah Island. By both protecting the pristine environment and making additions that actively enhance the area, Coral Bloom perfectly captures our ambition on this project. That being a barefoot luxury experience unlike anywhere else on earth, where rather than pose an ecological threat, tourism can be used as a catalyst for significant regeneration.
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