The Red Sea Project: A Luxury Resort Destination
The Red Sea Project is one of the most ambitious tourism development projects underway in Saudi Arabia, and possibly the world, today. Announced to the public in 2017, the hospitality project covers a remarkable 28,000 km2 of land and water. To put it into perspective, this project covers an area larger than the U.S. state of West Virginia or the country of Belize, and just shy of the size of Belgium. The development includes 90 virgin islands in the Red Sea off the northwest coast of Saudi Arabia, and the $20 billion USD investment is set to develop a regenerative luxury tourism destination with sustainability at its core. 75% of the islands will remain untouched and protected. Once completed, the hospitality project which will become home to over 50 luxury hotel groups which will be 100% powered by renewable energy sources.
The Red Sea Project is ambitious on many levels. First, the sheer size of the project is hard to wrap your head around. This is an area roughly equivalent to the combination of the Bahamas, French Polynesia, Réunion, Seychelles, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Maldives put together. In this gigantic area, it seems to have it all: a pristine archipelago of 90 virgin islands, teeming with coral and sea life, spectacular mountains, rolling dunes and even dormant volcanoes. Of the 90 virgin white-sand islands in the area, only 20 or so will be developed upon, largely to protect marine life, most especially the hawksbill turtle that nests there.
Photos Courtesy of The Red Sea Global
The Red Sea Project is the largest tourism development project underway today in the world, and it aspires to bring barefoot luxury to 80% of the world’s population within 8 hours of travel. The masterplan for the Red Sea Project was approved in 2018, and by 2020 over $2 billion USD of contracts were already awarded. The entire project is expected to cost over $20 billion USD. Today, significant works are being completed by 10,000 workers on-site. Phase One of the project will see the construction of 16 luxury hotels built across five islands, and two inland resorts, providing more than 3000 hotel keys. Today, much construction is underway. Sheybara and Shaura Islands are among the first islands to be developed upon, along with a beautiful new Red Sea Airport, the Southern Dunes development, a Coastal Village, Turtle Bay Hotel, and the Coral Bloom development, to name a few. Connecting it all are 80km of paved roads, 3.3km of causeways, and 6 jetties installed. A massive 100 hectare nursery has been built on-site, where 25 million plants are being grown. The world’s largest battery storage system has begun construction, so that the entire project can be powered by renewable energy.
The Coral Bloom development is just one project recently announced within the Red Sea Project, with architecture inspired by the coral reef just below its shoreline. 11 unique beachside resorts, an 18 hole golf course and a yachting marina will be developed to provide a high-end, beachside resort experience along the pristine blue waters of the Red Sea. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed at the end of 2022, when the international airport and four resorts will open its doors to welcome its first visitors. The remaining 12 hotels and resorts will open in 2023. Once the entire project is complete in 2030, the entire area will play host to 50 resorts offering 8000 hotel keys and 1,300 residential properties built across 22 islands and six inland sites.
AMAALA is dubbed the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’ and is a $1 billion USD mega-project managed by the Red Sea Global. John Pagano, the CEO of The Red Sea Global is also the CEO of AMAALA. AMAALA is being developed just north of the Red Sea Project and spans an additional 13,000 km2 of land and sea focused on bringing a luxury health and wellness community to life. AMAALA plans on being completed by 2028, by which time it hopes to be a world leading luxury wellness retreat destination, with a community of artists and healers in residence.
Many have commented on how The Red Sea Development Project is a project people in the industry have waited for a lifetime to work on, primarily because of its focus on sustainability and regeneration from the beginning of development. Not only will the entire project be operated on solar and wind power, but the new roads will only play host to electric and hydrogen powered cars. The project boasts that not one iota of garbage has gone to a landfill and nothing has been washed into the sea. They claim that everything has been recycled, composted, or incinerated responsibly in environmentally-sensitive facilities where carbon is captured; the resulting ash from incineration is being used for the manufacturing of bricks.
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The Red Sea Global (RSG) even partnered with the Ministry of Culture for Saudi Arabia’s first underwater archeological excavation, led by the University of Napoli L’Orientale. In November 2021, five Saudi divers from the Saudi Heritage Authority undertook an archeological mission and located a wooden shipwreck in the Red Sea. This ship is believed to date back to the 18th century and sank sometime between 1725 and 1750 in the Al Wajh lagoon. It contained hundreds of artifacts of jars, porcelain and spices as part of the ship’s cargo, which indicates the vibrancy of trading activities in the Red Sea. The calcified jugs are considered amongst the most intact and best-preserved in the Red Sea, and will remain in the seabed for divers to see. The Red Sea Global has also sponsored teams that have discovered more than 50 shipwrecks, which will be opened to tourists. The first maritime museum in the Kingdom is also being created, to exhibit underwater archeology, artifacts and various remains.
The ambition for the entire project to be powered by wind and solar energy, is in and of itself a magnificent feat – if accomplished. The development’s 50 hotels and resorts, when finished, is expected to utilize 100% renewable energy 24/7. In order to accomplish this, the project has also announced the construction of the world’s largest battery storage facility to date, which will be able to store 1000 MWh. “The size and scale of RS’s battery storage facility puts this iconic regenerative tourism destination at the forefront of the global transition towards carbon neutrality. Wind and solar capacity are expected to exceed coal and gas in less than five years, and we are keen to drive the pace of change.” Pagano said of the initiative. It is believed that the solar and wind power combination will provide region-wide energy resilience. When solar power cannot meet energy generation needs due to sand storms, wind farms will take over. The energy project expects to generate up to 650,000 MWh of 100% renewable energy whilst emitting zero CO2.
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The project also houses three seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plants to produce clean drinking water. Another partnership with SOURCE, a company focused on delivering the first fully sustainable water brand, will provide recyclable glass bottles of drinking water to the Red Sea Project, which is produced 100% renewably, using proprietary solar powered technology that draws pure water out of the air, and converts it into premium mineralized drinking water. The SOURCE plant and bottling facility is being constructed on-site at the Red Sea Project in Saudi Arabia – and will have the capacity to produce 2 million 330ml bottles per year.
“The Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia is rich in history, positioned at the heart of global trading routes for centuries. Partnering with the Heritage and Museums Commission allows us to both explore the historical significance of this unique region and ensure the preservation of our discoveries. The Red Sea Global is committed to responsibly developing the extraordinary natural beauty and historical value of the Red Sea and we look forward to close collaboration to advance the Kingdom’s heritage conservation efforts."
– John Pagano, CEO at The Red Sea Global & AMAALA
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Learn more about the mega- and giga-projects shaping the future of leisure tourism in Saudi Arabia, in our report Diriyah and the Giga Projects: Defining the New Saudi Arabia