SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Soudah Development, a company owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, said it plans to invest SR11 billion ($2.93 billion) as it spearheads a new era of sustainable mountain tourism, as part of the Kingdom’s ambitious environmental action plans.
Its project spans a 627 sq. km area that includes Soudah and the mountain village of Rijal Alma, in the Sarwat Mountains in the southwestern Asir region, and is home to 90 percent of the Kingdom’s greenery and plant life.
“Soudah and Rijal Almaa are a nationally unique and biologically diverse ecosystem vulnerable to climate change,” the company said. “By restoring biodiversity, boosting vegetation cover and rewilding vast swathes of terrain, we want to create a greener future that unlocks the potential of sustainable tourism.”
At a height of 3,015 meters, Soudah is the highest peak in Saudi Arabia.
“We plan to develop 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units and 30 commercial and entertainment attractions to create a luxury mountain tourism destination high above the clouds, (and) up to SR3 billion will be directed toward major infrastructure improvements which will provide social and economic dividends for the local community,” Soudah Development said.
“We also plan to play a key role in the country’s diversification by attracting over 2 million visitors throughout the year, creating 8,000 jobs and adding SR29 billion cumulatively to the Kingdom’s Gross Domestic Product by 2030.”
The company, a closed joint-stock real estate development business launched last year by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, participated in the second Saudi Green Initiative Forum, which took place last week on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh. It shared details about three of its flagship sustainability initiatives, including plans to plant more than a million trees by 2030.
“In addition to our ongoing reforestation drive, we used this platform to highlight two more environmental projects: Plans to reintroduce endangered wildlife, such as mountain ibex and gazelle, to their native habitats; and an extensive initiative to rewild protected areas to safeguard biodiversity and restore ecological balance,” it said.
Soudah Development, which was founded in February 2021 and is an affiliate member of the UN’s World Tourism Organization, said that its main commitment is to protecting Soudah but that it also aims to promote the area as a global luxury tourist destination, while helping to combat climate change in line with the goals of the SGI. This is reflected, the company said, in projects such as its plan to plant a million trees in support of the SGI’s ambitious goal of planting 10 billion trees by 2030.
“Up to 25 tons of carbon dioxide will be sequestered by the forest under this initiative, contributing to the Kingdom’s aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, reduce carbon emissions by four percent, and raise protected areas to more than 30 percent of the country’s total land area,” the company said.
It added that it is in the “preliminary stages of planning and development work,” in accordance with the best practices in sustainable tourism, and is partnering with national, international, and multilateral organizations to achieve its goals.
It has signed four agreements with national entities under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environment, including the National Center for Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification, the National Center for Environmental Compliance, the National Center for Wildlife Development, and the National Center for Waste Management.
It has also formed partnerships with the Saudi National Heritage Commission and the King Abdulaziz Foundation to identify and carry out research on archaeological assets and study the intangible cultural heritage in the area.
Soudah Development is also the region’s only member of the UN Mountain Partnership, and its plans for Soudah and Rijal Almaa, and its efforts to promote sustainability, have received a strong endorsement and recognition from the UN General Assembly.
“What this means for us — and the Kingdom — is that our efforts to promote meaningful action to fight climate change and achieve the 17 (UN) Sustainable Development Goals is receiving the global recognition it deserves,” the company said.