Mark Hillsdon reports on the Red Sea Development Project, which will include 70 new hotels, and aims to achieve a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040

Saudi Arabia’s coast with the Red Sea sprawls 28,000 sq km, and is punctuated by an archipelago of nearly 100 untouched islands, dormant volcanoes and huge desert dunes backed by mountains and wadis.

By 2030, 70 new hotels will be welcoming guests as part of the Red Sea Development Project, an initiative that describes itself as a new regenerative approach to tourism, and as far as we are aware, has so far received little or no criticism from conservation-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

According to the project’s chief environment and sustainability officer Raed Albasseet, the aim is to achieve a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040, which will be achieved by rehabilitating biologically diverse habitats including mangroves, seagrass, corals and land vegetation.

“Such an ambitious target must be met by innovative means, and we’ve explored new technologies such as 3D coral printing and coral farming processes to boost coral populations,” he explained.

Embracing conservation as a primary goal can ‘deliver a net positive economic, social and conservation impact’

The project has partnered with scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) who undertook a huge marine spatial planning simulation, to assess the potential impact of development on marine ecosystems and habitats. 

KAUST’s professor of marine science Carlos Duarte has argued that the study shows that  “development verses conservation is a false dichotomy” and that by embracing conservation as a primary goal, they can “deliver a net positive economic, social and conservation impact”.

Fish swim above a coral reef in the Red Sea offshore of KAUST near Jeddah. (Credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As well as the marine environment, a 100-hectare nursery will provide 25 million indigenous plants to landscape the development.

Once operational, the project will be powered solely by renewable energy and will feature the world’s largest battery storage facility, capable of holding 650,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy and saving nearly half a million tons each year. There will also be a “zero waste to landfill” policy that will be met by a circular waste management system, alongside zero discharge to sea and zero single-use plastics.

Eventually employing 35,000 people, project developers have also launched an Elite Graduate Program, offering local graduates on-the-job training in departments such as hospitality, smart destination and sustainability. 

Main photograph: The Red Sea Development Company


This article is part of the summer 2022 edition of The Ethical Corporation. See also:

Hotel sector strives to make up lost time on sustainability

The drive to turn tourism from a prime threat to saviour of global biodiversity

Ambition of ‘guilt-free’ travel through offsets faces rocky road

Can business adopt a more sustainable flight-path post-Covid?

What’s sustainable about soaring business jet use?

Tailwind growing behind tackling aviation emissions

Can the cruise industry power itself to a net zero future?

Hurtigruten sets course for zero-emissions cruising

COP15  biodiversity  Red Sea  eco tourism  Saudi Arabia  KAUST  marine ecosystems 

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