A new chapter
The new blueprint for sustainable development
Since the birth of mass tourism during the second half of the 20th century, it can be said that the travel industry has generated enormous global economic benefits, created millions of jobs, helped to raise living standards and advanced the economies of many developing nations. But like all industries, in order to survive and thrive, it must move with the times.
As the world sets its sights on a greener future, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution comes to pass, many in the sector are asking themselves if tourism is on the cusp of a new chapter. They argue that if the industry wants to protect its commercial future, attract increasingly eco-conscious travellers, and protect the planet, a rethink is overdue.
The extraordinary technological advances of recent years means that nearly every aspect of how tourism developments are designed, built and managed can now be reconsidered, with sustainability at their centre. Materials, construction methods, mobility and transport strategies, waste management, energy use, utilities and logistics are all areas ripe for improvement.
There is a notable consensus building that the industry can (and should) go beyond purely commercial considerations and become a driver of positive environmental and social change. Beyond their profit margins, responsible business leaders know that they need to maintain a deep concern about their company’s impact on the environment, and realise any potential for regenerating communities by ensuring an equitable transition to greater sustainability.
However, to make good on these ambitions, the sector is going to have to demonstrate a major change in mindset. In some cases, this might mean holding back and protecting rather than developing certain areas of land, in spite of obvious commercial potential. Or it may mean investing time and resources in encouraging the regeneration, growth and protection of wildlife and natural ecosystems that are local to developments.
Red Sea Global (RSG) has taken significant steps towards embracing this new way of thinking. The international developer is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a strategic framework to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy. One way the Kingdom is trying to achieve this is by increasing tourism’s share of GDP from three per cent to 10 per cent.
RSG, which operates a growing portfolio of developments, is helping to drive an uplift in the Kingdom’s nascent tourism sector and associated industries. Critically, it is pursuing a mandate of sustainable development that aims to create economic opportunities for the people of Saudi Arabia. To date, it has awarded more than 1,300 contracts worth in excess of $8.5 bn, with 70 per cent going to Saudi companies.
A key goal is to support local communities wherever it develops, creating training initiatives for the next generation of Saudi talent looking to enter the hospitality sector, including a scholarship programme with the University of Prince Mugrin. With Red Sea Global driving investment into green technologies, such as modular construction methods, as well as putting in place clean mobility strategies, it aims to be the world’s most responsible developer that will, according to CEO John Pagano, “put people and planet before short-term profit”.
The company is pioneering this approach at both The Red Sea and Amaala. Together, the regenerative tourism destinations span more than 32,000 sq km of islands, coastline, mountains, sand dunes and dormant volcanoes along the west coast of Saudi Arabia.
Because its developments are being built from scratch, regeneration can be placed at the core of its approach. For instance, it is aiming to contribute a 30 per cent net conservation benefit to the local environment within 20 years across the two destinations, and both will be off-grid, powered solely by renewable energy.
One of the first stages in the design and masterplan process for The Red Sea was to conduct a substantial marine spatial planning exercise, to understand and record the potential impacts of development on local wildlife, both on land and under the water, as well as predict the potential for regeneration.
As a result of this exercise – undertaken in partnership with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) – Red Sea Global was able to optimise conservation benefits and resolved to leave 75 per cent of The Red Sea’s island archipelago untouched, with nine designated as special conservation zones.
And at Amaala, the company pursued a similar approach, developing just 5 per cent of the destination’s greenfield site. This was to preserve the striking natural beauty and ecological importance of the site’s mountainous landscape – home to many examples of unique flora and fauna, found among pristine crevasses and coves.
Pagano continues: “A few years ago, many key details of our approach would have been impossible. Whether using AI to protect and enhance the growth of coral, or satellite technology to monitor and track environmental changes, we are constantly drawing on technology to find solutions to complex problems.”
There is still a long way to go before this type of thinking and action becomes the norm across the industry. But Red Sea Global is determined to become a global corporate citizen, widely sharing its knowledge, technology and expertise and ushering in new standards for what responsible development can achieve.