How TRSDC is shaping the future of tourism
Sustainability is often featured in the lexicon of the travel industry, especially since the World Health Organization recognized it as an instrumental component to tourism development. It is often also used interchangeably with “ecological balance,” to denote the synergies between economic benefits and social and environmental impacts. But does this balance truly exist?
The World Wildlife Fund warns us that, this year, we will have used more natural resources by August than the planet is able to produce in a 12-month period — meaning that for the remainder of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. Its data also reveals that more than 1 million species could become extinct within the next decades — the largest mass extinction event since the end of the dinosaur age. In addition, around 35 percent of wetlands have already been lost in the past 50 years.
More to do
Do we then only rely on a traditional approach to sustainability?
Sustainability alone is not enough. We must strive to not only prevent harm, but to replenish, restore, and redress that which has already been done. We must strive to regenerate our natural resources.
This is a promise that each one of us at The Red Sea Development Co. has made. Our ambitious approach to regenerative tourism sets a precedent like no other: Opening a gateway to one of the last undiscovered places on the planet, while enhancing biodiversity and encouraging habitats and wildlife to flourish. It echoes our mandate of going beyond just commercial value to empowering economies and communities that thrive so that the planet can too. Our main goal is for our visitors to have a positive impact as they explore more than 90 untouched islands, sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, and a rich cultural heritage — all spanning across an area that is almost the size of Belgium.
To achieve a better tomorrow, we are pioneering a new harmony between luxury tourism and the natural environment. In doing so, we seek to become the world leader in advancing regenerative development by generating socioeconomic opportunities for our local communities, creating unrivaled experiences for our guests, and contributing to the growth of Saudi Arabia’s economy in line with the bold blueprint set by Vision 2030.
Our ambition is guided by commitments that encompass the design, construction, and operating stages — from adopting and developing pioneering technologies that optimize operational efficiencies such as achieving carbon neutrality and generating 30 percent net conservation benefit, to enhancing habitats in ways that continually renew the landscape such as creating one of the largest marine protected areas in the world and a large-scale marine microalgae production farm.
We are undoubtedly setting our sights high with these ambitions, but our vision isn’t just forward-looking. It has been imperative for us that we show progress against these commitments even before our guest operations commence.
We have piloted new technologies today to find solutions to our most pressing problems tomorrow. We are offering bottled water made purely from sunlight and air, turning sunlight into seafood, and building an indoor farm that will develop a sustainable food supply using sunlight and saltwater.
In parallel, scientific research, data and technology are guiding our decision-making. We are deploying more than 2,500 smart sensors throughout our coral reefs, turtle nesting sites and the wider lagoon to actively monitor changes and provide an early warning system if the ecosystem is impacted. We are also looking at how technology can be used to boost coral populations, such as innovative approaches to coral farming such as 3D coral printing.
While many construction projects are under pressure to get started as quickly as possible, we spent a long time researching the carefully balanced ecosystems that surround our pristine site for The Red Sea Project. As a result of this research study, we have chosen to allow no more than 1 million visitors each year by 2030 and leave 75 percent of the destination untouched. Most notable of all, we also designated nine islands as special conservation zones — such as Al Waqadi Island.
I am energized by the industry’s confidence in our ability to lead the way toward responsible development. The Red Sea Project recently became the first development in the Middle East to secure a Platinum score under the pre-certification stage of the internationally recognized urban sustainability rating system and certification program, LEED Cities & Communities certification from the US Green Building Council. We were awarded with the prestigious Regional Sector Leader award by Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark and a five-star rating in recognition of achieving a score of 91 out of 100 in this year’s ESG-assessment and benchmark exercise, placing us in the top 20 percent of the assessment participants.
However, I must admit that there is one designation that I’m most proud to be pursuing: the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world. We intend to become the first full-scale destination in the Middle East to pursue this unique accreditation and cement our position among a worldwide movement dedicated to restoring mankind’s intimate relationship with the stars. This will allow our visitors to enjoy stunning nighttime panoramas that once guided and inspired historical travelers, while preserving the specific nighttime conditions required by many species at the destination.
While our innovative approach is already contributing toward environmental regeneration, we are equally prioritizing social regenerations. We are actively creating socioeconomic benefits and employment opportunities for the Saudi economy by leveraging the full force of tourism’s transformational potential.
As we inject 120,000 jobs into the local economy through The Red Sea Project and AMAALA, we are also enabling knowledge transfer, enhancing professional development opportunities, and developing local talent. We recently hosted an employment preparation program in the towns of Umluj and Al Wajh, and industry workshops to encourage our contractors to attract and hire members of the local community. These initiatives, together with welcoming prospective candidates to our own Career Days, collectively improve high-quality outputs to meet the evolving needs of the job market.
Operations and beyond
As our first guests arrive at The Red Sea Project by the end of this year, I can confidently say that we are no longer just aspiring to do something different along the Red Sea coast — we are actively achieving it.
We will continue to prove with every passing day that we are truly paving the way for an incredible transformation in Saudi Arabia and beyond and that we are rising to the challenge of leading the tourism industry to a greener and bluer, more equitable future.
• Raed Albasseet is group chief environment and sustainability officer at The Red Sea Development Co.