The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) was established in 2018 as a closed joint-stock company, wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, to drive the development of The Red Sea Project, a regenerative tourism destination along Saudi Arabia’s west coast, and one of three giga-projects announced by HRH Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
What does your current position involve?
My role is to put in place the operations that will create a truly integrated destination. This means creating services that will complement and connect the hotels, such as guest transport, logistics, catering, laundry and a bakery, to provide each of our guests and colleagues with a seamless experience.
As The Red Sea Project has its own dedicated airport, we are also working with our partners to model our guest transport needs. This means implementing services that will gel our real estate and transport offerings to ensure they are complementary and work in unison.
Finally, we are partnering with world-renowned hotel brands, but we will also be self-managing some of the hotels. My role also includes forming the management team and structuring the management offer at these hotels.
“Upon completion in 2030, there will be 50 hotels, offering up to 8000 hotel rooms, and more than 1000 residences across 22 islands and six inland sites”
The Red Sea Project is among the kingdom’s most ambitious giga-projects. What is your grand vision here, and how do you expect it will change Saudi Arabia?
The kingdom’s Vision 2030 programme laid out the framework to diversify the economy away from a dependency upon oil revenue, with three main themes – a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. Tourism is a central pillar of achieving this plan, and The Red Sea Project is at the forefront of the growth of this sector.
We are looking to build the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism destination, which will see us enhance the environment and create socio-economic opportunities for the people of Saudi Arabia, as well as set new standards for the way we approach development and tourism globally.
From an environmental perspective this doesn’t only mean protecting the natural wonders of the destination – it also means achieving a 30% net conservation benefit to the project area by 2040.
The development will also be a significant contributor of jobs, with 70,000 jobs being created either directly, indirectly or induced by the development, not to mention countless entrepreneurial, education and training opportunities.
Finally, The Red Sea Project will be a key contributor to the economy and is set to contribute SAR 22b ($5.8b) to the kingdom’s GDP from 2030 onwards.
Through these initiatives, the project promises to place Saudi Arabia firmly on the global tourism map, and open Saudi Arabia up to the world.
Tell us more about the project’s development phases and what they will include –
Phase One is due to be completed in 2023. It will include 16 hotels and 3000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts. We will also have other amenities available, including retail, dining, entertainment and leisure facilities, along with an international airport, allowing us to welcome our first guests next year.
Upon completion in 2030, there will be 50 hotels, offering up to 8000 hotel rooms, and more than 1000 residences across 22 islands and six inland sites.
Based on your expertise in this area, what will make this project stand out?
At TRSDC we’re committed to setting new standards in sustainable development through a regenerative approach to tourism. We believe that nature is the world’s most important asset and we all have a part to play in protecting it. Regenerative tourism is the commitment to implement policies that don’t just avoid harming the environment, but actually enhance it. That is why we’re committed to achieving a net conservation benefit of 30% by 2040. We also want to have a positive impact in other ways too, from local, natural and cultural assets to the quality of life of local people.
We’ve also committed to a number of additional initiatives that we believe are critical in creating a truly sustainable tourism destination. For one, we’re promising to send zero waste to landfill and implementing a full ban on single-use plastics once the destination is operational. Not to mention the fact that our entire destination will be powered by renewable energy 24/7/365, with no connection to the National Grid – this has never been achieved anywhere else in the world on a project of this scale.
World-class design will also ensure The Red Sea Project stands out. We recently unveiled the design concept for Shurayrah Island, called Coral Bloom, showing how we plan to use the island’s stunning natural landscape to dramatic effect, with all hotels and villas nestled within the scenery. The absence of high-rise buildings will ensure the spectacular vistas remain uninhibited, while creating a sense of mystery for guests as the island slowly reveals itself.
Can you tell us more about what we can expect from the Coral Bloom development?
Our Coral Bloom concept, created by leading international architects Foster + Partners, is designed to blend in with the island’s pristine natural environment. We are lucky that our destination has some of the best-preserved coral reefs in the world, and we wanted to reflect the beauty of these in Coral Bloom, while the concept itself is also symbolic of our wider commitment to the environment.
The design responds to the local palette of colours across the island – the pale hues of the sand, the indigenous vegetation and the spectacular shades of the sea. Each resort is carefully curated to be a unique place, while neatly fitting in with the larger vision for the island. The choice of materials is inspired by nature, and will be low-impact and light-touch, so that it will almost seem like the buildings have washed up onshore and could just as easily wash away again.
What have been the key milestones achieved so far?
We have signed over 500 contracts to date, worth some SAR 15 b ($4b). Around 70% of the total value of key contracts has been awarded to Saudi firms, and we are committed to boosting the domestic economy in line with Vision 2030. The signing of our PPP agreement with a consortium led by ACWA Power for our utilities package was also a landmark moment, confirming our destination will be powered by 100% renewable energy and securing both domestic and international investment, which represents investor confidence in the project.
The Landscape Nursery, the largest in the region at one million m2, is fully operational and set to provide over 15 million plants required to landscape the destination. There are more than 5000 workers currently on-site and 80km of new roads, highways and junctions are now complete, as well as various elements of enabling marine infrastructure.
We received our first offsite manufactured (OSM) units in 2020 to provide homes and amenities for employees at the Coastal Village. Our Construction Village, capable of housing 10,000 workers and designed to set new standards in worker welfare, is already open.
“The design responds to the local palette of colours across the island – the pale hues of the sand, the indigenous vegetation and the spectacular shades of the sea”
How important is design and architecture when developing a new project?
The relationship our guests have with the design and architecture of the destination is of paramount importance. As the natural setting of the destination invites feelings of wonder and excitement, we want the design to mirror this – it needs to be unlike anything experienced before. From the moment our guests arrive to see the destination for the first time, through to their departure, we consider every element of their experience and how to make this unforgettable. Working with creative minds helps elevate architectural plans beyond simple functionality and to become a sensory experience to surprise and delight our guests.
For instance, Coral Bloom, the concept for our main hub island, takes inspiration from the incredible coral reef which surrounds the destination, which is one of the best-preserved reefs in the world. The concept draws on the reef to inform the design of the island, the position of the hotels, the colours, the palette of materials used. This is going to be a breathtaking experience for our guests, surrounded by white sands and turquoise waters.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
In today’s always-on society, many of us feel time-poor and look for efficiencies to make our lives easier and quicker. The same is true of holidays, where precious time away from the busy pace of normal life needs to be maximised, to ensure enjoyment and relaxation. As we developed the master plan, the ease of guest experience was at front of mind, to ensure we are offering a seamless journey through the destination.
To achieve this, The Red Sea Project will be a destination underpinned by dozens of interconnected smart services designed to alleviate friction. The design of the airport typifies this, with technology enabling passengers to be pre-screened ahead of arrival, meaning they won’t need to queue to show passports. We are completely recreating the airport experience.
This seamless, tech-enabled experience goes beyond the airport. We’re looking at new innovations such as virtual concierge services and centralised journey-planning services to streamline the travel experience throughout The Red Sea Project, always powered by sustainable transport options. Likewise, our hotels will be integrated so that guests can enjoy all of the amenities on offer with a single bill at the end of their stay.
As part of our commitment to regenerative tourism and an experimental approach to using new technology, we’re investigating the use of personal carbon footprint trackers, which will allow guests to monitor the environment around them, such as water salinity and tidal flows, creating a deeper connection between guest and nature.
We are also taking into account how the Covid-19 pandemic has altered what consumers want and expect. Our hotel designs recognise that traveller demands have transformed over the last year. In response, there will be no internal corridors at the hotels on Shurayrah Island, reflecting a growing desire for space and seclusion. We want guests to be able to explore the beautiful destination and to feel comfortable and safe doing so.
“We’re focused on luxury, and so, if you think about the top five hotel brands in the world, you’ll find them at The Red Sea Project”
What do you consider to be your biggest success so far?
The scale and ambition of this project requires serious teamwork to make our vision a reality. That is why my biggest success to date must be a company one, rather than a personal one.
I am astounded and proud of the progress we have made in assembling and executing on innovative designs that deliver our commitment to offering the highest levels of service, while also meeting our ambition to take a regenerative approach to tourism. We assembled a world-class portfolio of brands to come with us on that journey and to confirm their commitment to the same principles.
What’s next for you? Any exclusives you can reveal?
We are excited about the year ahead and expect to announce partnerships with some of the biggest names in hospitality soon. We’re focused on luxury, and so, if you think about the top five hotel brands in the world, you’ll find them at The Red Sea Project.