DUBAI: Top officials from Saudi Arabia’s various megaprojects highlighted the importance of preserving the environment while achieving ambitious development goals in the Kingdom’s previously untouched sites.
John Pagano, chief executive of the Red Sea Development Co., said the biggest challenge they have is not “messing up the place” and avoiding “over tourism” that has traditionally compromised nature-based tourist sites.
“At the end of the day, our environment is our most valuable asset. It’s making sure that we balance the desire to build, and build it in a timely fashion, but never to the extent where we put at risk the very thing that will make this place so special,” he said.
The Red Sea Development Co. is expecting its first influx of tourists in 2023, Pagano mentioned, saying they will put a cap on the number of visitors in the area.
AlUla’s Melanie de Souza echoed Pagano’s sentiments on preserving the “pristine” characteristics of Saudi heritage sites, saying it is an important element in their plan.
“I think there is a job to be done to continue to educate our communities, and to indulge in best practices in developing infrastructure,” de Souza, the executive director of tourism and destination marketing at the Royal Commission of AlUla, said.
The same goes with the NEOM project in the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, where the major concern lies in regenerating “these places for future generations.”
In March the Kingdom solidified its dedication to sustainability with the launch of the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, which call for regional cooperation to tackle the environmental challenges facing Saudi Arabia and the wider region.
Unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the initiatives include a number of ambitious projects designed to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 60 percent. This will be achieved mainly through the use of clean hydrocarbon technologies and the planting of 50 billion trees, including 10 billion in the Kingdom.
In addition, the initiatives aim to preserve marine and coastal environments, increase the proportion of natural reserves and protected land, improve the regulation of oil production, accelerate the transition to clean energy and boost the amount of energy generated by renewables.
The panelists, who were speaking at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, predicted a strong recovery in the tourism sector, especially as the Kingdom sets its goal to attract 100 million tourists by 2030.
Pagano was particularly hopeful because of developments in vaccine rollouts across the world, specifically in their source markets.
“By the time that we open up our resorts at the end of next year, most of these places will be beyond herd immunity,” he predicted.
“I think the traveling public is going to come and (is) predominantly going to be vaccinated. In fact, I suspect maybe that’s going to be one of the key criteria to allow people to come in,” Pagano added.