As a major destination of the region, the Red Sea is an important axis of tourism development in Saudi Arabia. Famous for its diving spots, it offers travelers unique landscapes, between sea, desert and archipelagos of islands. However, this tourism development is part of a larger plan: the post-oil era.
Second largest country in the Arab world after Algeria, Saudi Arabia has many assets from a tourism point of view. Whether it is for its historical, cultural or natural heritage, there are many ways to develop.
Thus, the Red Sea Project, an ambitious project centered around sustainable development, fits perfectly into this modernization policy. Announced in 2017 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, it covers 28,000 square kilometers along the west coast of Saudi Arabia and includes an archipelago of more than 90 unspoiled islands, according to The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC), a company owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund in charge of the project.
As part of the project, the Desert Rock resort will be built on the Red Sea coast, inside a mountain in the middle of a desert landscape and will include 48 villas and 12 hotel suites. It will have a luxury spa, gym, gourmet areas, an oasis in the form of a lagoon and will offer activities such as excursions, all-terrain vehicles, etc.
As Chad Oppenheim, founder of Oppenheim Architecture, the firm responsible for the project, explains:
Our original intention when designing the resort was to build with the land in mind, without building directly on top of it, and to take into account the amazing natural elements that already exist on the site, thus amplifying its natural beauty.
Faced with such a design, it is legitimate to ask questions about its sustainability. Indeed, whether in terms of surface area, energy needs or pollution, any resort should pale in comparison to such a behemoth. However, TRSDC's intentions seem to be quite different:
John Pagano, CEO of The Red Sea Development Company, states:
Providing an immersive, luxurious and eco-friendly experience for our visitors has been a top priority for us since the launch of our project. We look forward to welcoming our very first guests and providing them with a truly unique and memorable stay.
Luxury and sustainability are indeed two concepts that go hand in hand. A sustainable and immersive hotel experience is often accompanied by very high costs. Whether it is for energy, waste, transportation, food, ... ecology is expensive. When he stays on site, it is the traveler who pays this difference. Thus, this project of development of the Red Sea coast will address a very wealthy clientele.
With more than 600 contracts signed to date, for a value of nearly 17 billion SAR (4.5 billion dollars), the project has already reached important milestones and its first phase of development should be completed by 2023. For example, the 100-hectare landscape nursery, which will provide more than 15 million plants for the destination, is now fully operational.
But the needs of such a huge complex could quickly become a problem, especially for water management. Although recovery methods are planned, the region suffers from a constant lack of water.
Modernization projects are numerous in Saudi Arabia. Whether it is the Red Sea Project, the ultra-connected and zero-carbon city The Line - NEOM, in the middle of the desert or the mega entertainment project Qiddiya, which will be established in Riyadh, the country is preparing for the post-oil era by making tourism one of its future economic pillars.
The country also works on the development of a new destination named Al Ula which is located in the North-West. Al Ula is an archeological site recently listed on the Unesco world heritage list for its richness, it is in fact the first site classified by the Unesco in the country. The site just begin its development into a major touristic destination so it stills remain a confidential spot far away from the mass tourism for now. But the ambition is to transform it into a major global touristic destination thanks to its unique cultural aspect.