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The Red Sea project will weigh in with its first visitors early next year. And future guests will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting their stays. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Saudi Arabia is taking its tourism ambitions to the mountains, historical sites, and purpose-built theme parks. But embedded in that overarching vision is to build an enduring destination centred on the Red Sea. That’s what the TRSDC is out to deliver.

In the last few years, The Red Sea Development Co. has combated COVID-19 and economic uncertainties towards delivering what would be one of Saudi Arabia’s ‘giga projects’. (These are special-purpose multi-phase, multi-year developments that would reshape the Kingdom’s tourism, real estate, hospitality spaces. The others include the NEOM City, AlUla, etc..)

So, where is the Red Sea project at? Tracy Lanza, Head of Global Branding and Marketing at TRSDC, gives a status report.

With the Red Sea project, are you convinced that it can be a true year-long destination?

With an average year-round temperature of 32 degrees, the Red Sea will be a comfortable experience any time of the year. We expect the high season to last from November through March, but our coastal, island, and inland locations will provide experiences and accommodations that can be enjoyed during every season.

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Can the Red Sea be a year-round destination. Tracy Lanza says that is definitely happening.

The crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea provide spectacular underwater exploration activities, including diving and snorkeling and cooler evenings can be enjoyed with both indoor and outdoor world-class dining and entertainment options.

Wouldn’t the destination need supporting MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) options?

Yes, absolutely. Shura Island is our hub island (nicknamed ‘Coral Bloom’ because of its proximity to the coral reefs nearby) and will be a highly desirable MICE destination. Scheduled to be fully operational by end 2023, the island will house 11 hotels and resorts including Edition, Fairmont, Raffles, SLS, Intercontinental, Jumeirah and Grand Hyatt brands.

Guests will have a choice of experiences and attractions to choose from, including an 18-hole championship golf course, a marina and beach club, and a variety of luxury retail options.

The Saudi giga tourism projects have hit some key project landmarks – when will the Red Sea destination take in first set of visitors?

We look forward to welcoming our first guests in early 2023, when our first hotels open.

Our Southern Dunes and Ummahat Islands properties will be the first to open.

Visitors will experience for the first time what regenerative tourism is all about in a world-class, technologically advanced destination.

- Tracy Lanza, Head of Global Branding and Marketing at TRSDC

Southern Dunes is an inland location, sitting among desert dunes. The design - by British architect Foster + Partners - pays homage to the Nabataean heritage of the Red Sea coast. The 80-key resort will be operated by the first Six Senses in Saudi Arabia.

The Ummahat Islands are two pristine locations, the first of which will be home to the St. Regis Red Sea Resort, a 90-key property. The design - by Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates - puts the environment first and connects the building with the land.

The Red Sea International Airport will also be operational in 2023. Featuring a desert-inspired design by Foster + Partners, it sits within three hours of 250 million people and within eight hours of 80 per cent of the world’s population.

Will the Red Sea project be delivered over multiple phases?

Development of the Red Sea project has been scheduled for two phases. Phase 1 will open in early 2023 and will be complete and operational by the end of 2023. This first phase includes 16 hotels (3,000 keys) and anticipates approximately 300,000 arrivals.

Phase 2, scheduled for completion by 2030, will feature 50 total hotels (8,000 keys) and residential properties across our island and inland sites. To protect the natural environment, visitation will be capped at one million a year.

We are proud to say the Red Sea will be the first tourism project of its size to be powered solely by 100 per cent renewable energy (solar power). We will achieve a 30 per cent net conservation benefit by 2040, enhancing biologically diverse habitats including mangroves, seagrass, corals, and land vegetation.

Our environmental approach will:

  • Develop less than 1 per cent of the entire 28,000 square kilometer area.
  • Leave 75 per cent of more than 90 islands in the archipelago untouched.
  • Designate nine islands as special conservation zones.
  • Create an on-site landscape nursery which will provide more than 25 million plants (the largest nursery in the Middle East).
  • Ban single-use plastics once fully operational.
  • Develop a sustainable food supply.

The initial phases – will these be the ones with the maximum number of hotels and resorts? How many will there be?

We expect to announce additional international hotel brand partnerships in the coming months.

What of the residential options?

We have partnered with renowned hotel brands to create branded residences, all with exceptional architecture, interior design, and ongoing management. The first two on offer will be revealed shortly, with the names of other five-star hotel partners to be announced in due course.

The residential offering, which is a first step towards the creation of a new prime and super-prime residential market on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, presents an unprecedented opportunity for a select few to own and invest in the first available branded residences.

Each of the residences offer a private and ultra-exclusive luxury island residential lifestyle, available for Saudi and future overseas buyers. The balanced mix of one- to five-bedroom homes will appeal to a range of buyers and family sizes.

With some of the giga projects, some say these are slightly similar in their concepts because of the choice of locations, such as being near the ocean, etc.

World-class destinations are defined by the stories that visitors bring home with them, which in turn inspire return trips as well as other first-time visitors. At the Red Sea, our guests will have their choice of an array of personalized experiences to help them connect with nature, enjoy time with their families, and understand how luxury tourism can also have a positive impact on the environment and the local community.