Five years on, The Red Sea Project is still a living dream and unmatched
When I took the helm at The Red Sea Project, what stood out to me most was the raw enthusiasm and commitment of all involved to deliver on what was, to my eyes, an incredibly ambitious business plan.
Today, I am beyond proud to see how that commitment has driven significant progress.
As an organization, we have not only pushed forward to become one of the world’s most ambitious tourism developments but have helped lay the foundations for a bright future for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As our project celebrates its fifth anniversary, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last five years by celebrating five critical milestones in our journey that support the broader Vision 2030 ambition.
Our project sits within an area of extraordinary, undiscovered natural beauty, and from the outset, we prioritized its protection and careful management. This approach was exemplified through a groundbreaking Marine Spatial Planning simulation – the largest ever undertaken – which ensured our master planning process was led by science.
The MSP was instrumental in shaping our plans for the destination, placing regeneration of the local environment at its core. It enabled us to understand our project area truly, map out conservation areas, and plan to go beyond ‘no harm’ to enhance the environment actively.
Guided by the MSP, we are only developing 22 of the 90-plus islands, with nine designated special conservation zones. So, less than 1 percent of the total project area will be developed.
At The Red Sea Development Co., we are committed to taking a pioneering new approach to development, spearheading solutions to create the world we want to inhabit. Our ambition is to deliver a 30 percent net conservation benefit by 2040 at TRSP by expanding the critical habitats that enable biodiversity to flourish and controlling or removing pressures that impact the health of our ecosystems.
The key to building a thriving tourism industry that will fuel sustainable economic growth is ensuring it is attractive to investors. This belief was clearly demonstrated last year when we secured the first riyal-denominated green financing credit facility.
Likewise, our partnership with a consortium led by ACWA Power to design, build, operate and transfer TRSP’s green utilities infrastructure brought foreign direct investment from the UK’s Standard Chartered Bank and China’s Silk Road Fund.
Since then, we have attracted even greater private sector interest and investment, most recently by establishing our first joint-venture agreement with Almutlaq Real Estate Investment Co., a subsidiary of the Al Mutlaq Group, worth SR 1.5 billion.
Having globally-respected investors demonstrate their support for our ambitious development has further enhanced the credibility of TRSP. It has also shown on a global stage that the Kingdom is open for business and leading the way in sustainable tourism development.
Engaging the very best local talent and working with thriving Saudi businesses has been central to our success over the last five years. Two key pillars of Vision 2030 center around a vibrant society and a flourishing economy. To deliver on these pillars, we are creating opportunities for Saudi businesses, and we are training and hiring thousands of ambitious Saudis.
The project is expected to create up to 70,000 direct and indirect jobs once fully operational in 2030. However, the work to prepare the workforce has already started. Through our Elite Graduate Program – now in its third iteration – and partnerships with institutes such as the University of Prince Mugrin, we are playing a central role in upskilling the next generation of Saudi talent.
We have also signed over 1,000 contracts worth over SR25 billion, with 70 percent of the total value awarded to Saudi companies.
One of our key ambitions has been to place the Kingdom on the global tourism stage and engage with international businesses and travelers. This ambition and our innovative, responsible approach to development continuously yield exciting results, quickly establishing the Kingdom as an internationally competitive tourism destination.
We have welcomed 12 iconic hospitality brands to TRSP, including EDITION, St Regis, Fairmont, Raffles, SLS, Grand Hyatt, Intercontinental, Six Senses, Jumeirah, Miraval, Rosewood and Ritz Carlton Reserve. These international brands will offer visitors once-in-a-lifetime experiences and enable them to explore the rich heritage and natural beauty of this undiscovered region.
The past five years have seen us stay firm on our commitment to sustainability and regeneration, responsible development and tangible progress by putting people and the planet at the center of what we do. However, this period has also seen us adapt to realize these bold ambitions.
While TRSP’s fifth anniversary is a significant milestone, today, we are broader than a single destination. Through TRSDC’s acquisition of AMAALA, plus an expanded mandate that will include dozens of projects along the west coast of the Kingdom, we are enabling long-term job creation for Saudi citizens and ensuring the industries we develop last long into the future.
TRSP was announced five years ago with the clear aim of becoming a regenerative, luxury tourism development that will help fuel economic diversification in the Kingdom and bring to life the goals laid out in Vision 2030. Now that the groundwork is set, our commitment to the environment, society, people and planet will soon be fully displayed when we welcome our first guests early next year.
The Kingdom is undergoing a period of exciting change, and it is my privilege to be involved in this inspiring work. But we do not intend to rest on our laurels. As we move forward, we will continue to encourage investment in the Kingdom, provide opportunities through environmental protection and economic growth, and play a key role in putting the Kingdom firmly on the global tourism map. It is nice to reflect on our achievements over the last five years, but it is what we do next that I am most excited about.
John Pagano is the Group CEO of The Red Sea Development Company