The Kingdom's Red Sea is heart of the ecotourism world

The Kingdom's Red Sea is heart of the ecotourism world

A haven of luxury resorts on Saudi's Red Sea coast take centre stage for the eco-conscious
12 October 23
Saudi Red Sea Project

Nestled along a pristine shoreline on the west coast of Saudi is a testament to what visionary ecotourism can achieve.

The Red Sea Project, commonly known as The Red Sea, is set to be the planet's largest travel hotspot that is completely powered by renewable energy. From sapphire waters and idyllic islands to sun-kissed beaches and kaleidoscopic coral reefs, this development project is a dazzling fusion of nature's bounty and contemporary luxury.

Imagine an expanse spanning 28,000 square kilometres of coastal and desert areas, and featuring over 90 islands. Think of 50 opulent hotels and more than 1,000 residential buildings. The scale is jaw-dropping, but what sets The Red Sea apart is its relentless pursuit of sustainability. It is being envisioned as a new global blueprint for “regenerative” tourism – all about travelling responsibly, preserving and enhancing the local community and environment, while offering transformative experiences.

What To Do

With immaculate beaches, dormant volcanoes, sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, and historical sites, the list of activities in this mega development is expansive. In addition to a world-class sports performance academy that will cater to high-level training and a yacht club at Triple Bay that can accommodate a full range of yachts and superyachts, The Red Sea will also offer golf and tennis, as well as regional favourites like equestrian, polo, camel racing, and falconry.

Adventure seekers will be well served. The project's sprawling network of hiking and biking trails will cover untamed desert landscapes and volcanic lava fields. Ancient archaeological sites dating back millennia will transport history buffs back in time, offering the chance to retrace the footsteps of ancient wanderers.

The crown jewel here, however, might be the pristine shore, which until recently was only accessible by four-wheel drives. As it has not been a popular diving destination, its coral reefs (the world’s fourth largest barrier reef system) have remained exceptionally well-preserved. With crystal clear views of diverse marine life, The Red Sea lends itself to snorkelling in largely unexplored waters and diving to explore a 300-year-old wooden shipwreck.

For those who would rather immerse themselves while still on dry land, the Marine Life Institute will be both a scientific research centre and tourist destination, with 10 zones ranging from augmented reality experiences and underwater walkways to submersibles and night diving.

Where To Stay

This year marks the opening of the first of three upcoming hotels, with The St. Regis Red Sea Resort set to open in December. Built on Ummahat Island within a conservation area of private islands in the country’s Blue Hole atoll, this 90-room resort – designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma – is accessible by chartered boat or seaplane.

Each of its over-water villas feature a private pool, sundeck, and views of the sun over turquoise waters. Nearby, the 82-key Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, is also nearing completion, joining only five other Ritz-Carlton Reserves in the world – the most luxurious properties by the brand.

Inland, the upcoming 76-room Six Senses Southern Dunes resort pays homage to ancient Nabataean trade routes. In alignment with the brand’s usual focus on wellness, the resort offers spa treatments, sea-view yoga sessions, and sustainable fine dining that celebrates local cuisine. It also boasts the world’s first zero-carbon 5G network and is located within a larger development called AMAALA – an ultra-luxury resort destination on the north-western coast.

Opening its doors by 2025, AMAALA will be home to more than 3,900 rooms across 29 hotels, as well as around 1,200 residential villas, apartments, and estate homes. These luxury accommodations will be complemented by high-end retail, fine dining, and wellness and recreational facilities.

Eco Strategy

To power this bold project, Red Sea Global (RSG) – the company behind this entire development – has set up five solar farms to enable the first phase of The Red Sea to be off grid – powered solely by sunlight with more than 760,000 solar panels.

RSG, a company wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi, has entered into a 25-year concession agreement with France's EDF and United Arab Emirates' Masdar to service AMAALA. The new facility will have the capacity to generate up to 410,000 MWh per annum, or enough to power 10,000 households for an entire year.

The Red Sea is also home to the region’s largest landscape nursery, an ongoing effort that has already grown roughly 4 million trees, plants, and shrubs. Once new seedlings reach 80cm, they are transplanted to parks across the destination, with the aim to plant 50 million mangroves by 2030.

Top Notch Teams

Even the most luxurious resort would be nothing without its staff, which is why RSG has partnered with University of Prince Mugrin and Switzerland’s EHL Hospitality Business School. This project will extend scholarships to high school graduates, enabling them to pursue a bachelor's degree in international hospitality management. The curriculum will combine theoretical knowledge with hands-on experiences based on Swiss and international hospitality standards.

There is also The Red Sea Hospitality Pioneers programme, aimed at training and employing local talent in the tourism and hospitality sector. It is a programme in which students obtain an intermediate diploma from Tabuk University, accredited by Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The aim is to support 10,000 graduates through these educational programmes, with at least 50% coming from areas surrounding the development project.

Getting There

Developers have set a limit of one million visitors a year for The Red Sea and 500,000 for AMAALA. Guests will arrive via Red Sea International Airport (RSI), which is on track to open this year. Initially, RSI will cater to domestic flights to and from Riyadh and later Jeddah, and will then expand to handle international flights starting in 2024. Designed by British Architects Foster + Partners, it stands as the Middle East’s first airport powered entirely by renewable energy.

As The Red Sea approaches full completion in 2030, it's not just a tourism behemoth; it's a clarion call for the world. This venture demonstrates that sustainability and luxury aren't adversaries; they are partners in progress. With its commitment to renewable energy, ecological guardianship, and innovative tech, The Red Sea isn’t just the world's largest eco-conscious tourism destination; it is a beacon of hope for the entire travel industry.

As the saying goes: "Build it and they will come."