Eco-Tourism: Turning 50 Red Sea Islands Into Luxury Resorts
he Middle East is a huge growth market for Studio 104 and its core specialism of bespoke and luxury designer uniform. The region will see continued and significant expansion of luxury hotels over the next 10-15 years, with key countries and players being unsurprisingly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced it ambitious plans to turn a huge part of its pristine Red Sea coastline into a luxury, eco-tourism destination. The 50 islands and 180km (110 miles) stretch of coastline - amounting to an area the size of Belgium - will be developed more than 10,000 hotel rooms and luxury residences across 22 of the more than 90 islands in an area of the Red Sea that is one of the world's last untouched marine wonderlands.
The plans are part of “Vision 2030”, Saudi Arabia’s long-term blueprint for weaning itself off its reliance on oil revenue. Approved as of 2019, the first phase of the project scheduled for completion in 2022, includes an airport, 14 luxury hotels with 3,000 rooms across five islands, as well as two inland resorts, yacht marinas and other leisure amenities and infrastructure.
While 18 million people visited Saudi Arabia from abroad in 2016, almost all foreigners came on pilgrimage to Mecca, rather than to spend time and money soaking up the country’s other sights.
Although the Kingdom is home to many archaeological sites, pristine beaches and excellent diving, it is not a holiday destination like Egypt’s Red Sea resorts or the city of Petra in Jordan. It currently does not offer tourist visas, making visiting difficult.
Conservative social rules, a lack of alcohol and restrictive dress codes coupled with blazing desert heat aren’t the usual ingredients Western holidaymakers look for.
American luxury architecture specialists WATG and British engineers Buro Happold, carefully drafted and redrafted plans with information from a series of wide-ranging environmental studies to ensure that the ecologically sensitive area is protected during and after development.
It also preserves some 75% of the destination's islands for conservation and designates nine islands as sites of significant ecological value to avoid disrupting endangered species native to the area.
"The design concepts that we have presented to the board will provide visitors with a uniquely diverse, immersive experience while setting new standards in sustainable development, and positioning Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map," said Red Sea Development Co. CEO John Pagano.
"With the master plan approved, we are now identifying investors and partners who are interested in working with us on realizing the objectives of the project and who share our commitment to enhance, not exploit, the natural ecosystems that make the destination so unique."
The Red Sea Project is Saudi Arabia's first big play to for generating luxury tourism beyond business and religious visitors and is a key component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030” strategy for diversifying the kingdom's economy.
The project is expected to create up to 70,000 jobs and to contribute $5.3 billion to the nation's GDP, the company said.