Red Sea Global (RSG), the multi-project developer behind what is touted to be the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism destinations, The Red Sea and Amaala, has been consciously working its way towards Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to transform Saudi Arabia into a global hub for business, trade, and tourism.
Pledged to be fully inclusive for guests with disabilities, specific needs and access requirements, the destination is said to be on track to welcome its first guests this year when the first three hotels – Six Senses, St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton Reserve – and phase one of the Red Sea International airport open.
Upon full completion in 2030, the destination will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.
ETTravelWorld caught up with John Pagano, Group CEO of Red Sea Global recently in Dubai, who shared details on the progress of the ambitious projects that are set to redefine luxury for the world. Excerpts from the interview:
A bumpy headstart
“We started on this journey at the beginning of 2018. And, with 3,000 employees, we created this vertically integrated real estate company to deliver what can be called a once in a lifetime opportunity for Saudi Arabia and for people that are going to be engaged in it,” said Pagano.
“After all the hard work, the challenges of Covid and the post Covid supply disruptions, we are now at the point where we are about to open our first three resorts –Six Senses, St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton Reserve – in the coming months,” he said. This, besides the airport that will also open this year in July to serve the first three resorts.
“Next year will be big, when we open another 21 resorts, comprising the best brands in the world,” he shared. And this is just the start. According to Pagano, they are already planning phase two. “We have already got new drawings and new designs on the boards, thinking about how we keep evolving the destination,” he shared.
Opening up to the world and new markets
In terms of the markets, RSG is primarily looking at Europe – Western Europe, to be precise. But, Pagano is quick to acknowledge India as an important market for the destination in the Asia Pacific region.
“If you look at the travel patterns, India is a very important market for us. We have established representatives within different markets, including India, an indicative of how important it is for us,” he said, adding, “Given the pristine environment and nature that it offers, I think the destination will resonate well with the Indian travellers.”
In terms of strategy, Pagano said, they are focussing only on those who they think are most likely to travel to the region. “And over time, as the brand of Saudi Arabia grows, people will come to realise what a beautiful and intriguing place it is. It will expand automatically over time,” he said with optimism.
In terms of positioning, Pagano feels that The Red Sea and Amaala stand at a strong footing in the region due to the absence of a good luxury product. “Currently, the leisure market is virtually non-existent for Saudi,” he said. “Saudi Arabia gets about 28 million visitors a year, a large part of that is religious tourism. There really isn’t a leisure offering as of now. This is because leisure tourism was never the focus for the Kingdom. So, we are operating with no competition and a very deep market,” he explained.
According to him, Saudi itself, with its 30 million people, should be able to generate a strong domestic demand. “With what we have to offer – the beautiful islands, thriving coral reef, dune, sea, mountains, volcanoes and all the historical sites – we would be competing with the best in the world. It would generate a lot of opportunities for the Saudis to travel within their own country. I think it is going to be a real game changer for Saudis generally,” he said.
Sustainability at its core
“We are setting new standards with regard to how you develop tourism in a sustainable way,” claimed Pagano. “We have adopted the phrase regenerative development to signify that we need to do better. We need to improve the destination, not just maintain it. So that is what we are doing,” he said.
According to Pagano, “we as an industry have to change our practices. We have to be much more conscious and aware of water waste and consumption and how we deal with the waste.”
To develop the region as a sustainable and eco-conscious destination, RSG has eliminated all single use plastic – not just at the end stage, but even during the build. To make sure that everyone conforms to the rules, every operator has to sign a hotel management cooperation agreement with the management to ensure that they abide by the rules and deliver Saudi’s vision, he shared.
“Not only in terms of what we do at an operational level. Even at a macro level, we are building the biggest tourism destination in the world that is completely off grid, powered 100 per cent by renewable energy – 24 hours a day. Our airport will be the only airport in the world so far that is totally off grid,” he claimed.
Other than this, RSG is working on centralising the processes. “For instance, in order to reduce food miles, we are trying to create agricultural opportunities on site itself. The idea is to minimise transport and consolidate what we have in the region,” said Pagano.
The RSG CEO said that while they are using bio biofuels for now, they will eventually convert to hydrogen when the technology allows them to do so. “We want to minimise our footprint in the transport phase itself, because it is a big part of greenhouse gas emissions. The final mile is all done through electric, or hydrogen powered vessels and vehicles,” he shared, adding that these are only some of the ways by which RSG plans to take some of the burden away from the brands.
Making of a smart destination
“Even though we are working hard towards creating a smart destination, at the end of the day, I believe that tourism, hospitality is a people business. It is about human interactions – about wishing someone a good morning or just speaking to someone. So while I am not an advocate of using digital to replace that human interaction, we are using technology to make the guests’ journey better, simpler and more comfortable,” said Pagano.
The airport at The Red Sea is being developed as a super smart one where the guests would not have to wait for the luggage, but it would reach directly to the hotel.
“Likewise, we are using artificial intelligence and machine learning on a real time basis to monitor our environment. I have made bold commitments to increase the conservation value of our destination over the next coming decades by 30 per cent. I want to make sure that nothing that we are doing is creating adverse impacts to our local environment,” he claimed.
Pagano shared that RSG is using technology to look for any new changes in the corals, mangroves and the sea grass. “It is something that is not possible to do with the human eye. We don’t have the attention span to monitor the change and the process is highly repetitive. So we’re using technology to make sure that we don’t miss anything,” he said.
Phase One of Amaala is focused on the Triple Bay masterplan and will be ready to welcome first guests in 2024.