What is Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Tourism Project?

The multi-billion dollar project will develop luxury resorts on more than 90 islands off the kingdom's west coast

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Saudi Arabia is developing several mega-projects to build its nascent tourism industry as part of efforts to reduce its reliance on oil and diversify the economy. The Red Sea project is one of its most ambitious plans to attract tourists to miles of pristine beaches, heritage sites and luxury resorts.

The Red Sea Development Company, developer of the mega-project on Saudi Arabia's west coast, has already signed deals with a  "large number" of hotel operators for the first phase and is preparing to announce the line-up soon.

With Saudi Arabia opening its doors to visitors, The National explains the significance of its flagship tourism project and what it means for the tourism industry amid continued economic and social overhaul in the kingdom.

What is Saudi Arabia's Red Sea tourism project?

It is a luxury tourism destination located on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, spanning 28,000 square kilometers and covering more than 90 islands. Set to welcome its first visitors in 2022, the project is expected to be completed by 2030. Billed as a sustainable development, the project aims to position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.

What can visitors expect to experience at the Red Sea tourism site?

Nature, culture and adventure await visitors to the Red Sea tourism site. It promises to keep visitors busy with ancient archeological sites dating back to the Nabatean civilization, dives on the world's fourth-largest barrier reef system, wildlife and marine habitats in the Hijaz mountains and in the Red Sea and even a dormant volacano.

How much will the project cost and how will it be funded?

The first phase will cost an estimated 28 billion Saudi riyals to 29bn riyals ($7.46bn to $7.73bn) to develop, 14bn riyals of which will be debt funded through a syndicated loan, with participation principally from local lenders.

Has work started on the Red Sea project?

Yes. About 5,000 workers are already on site and TRSDC has awarded about 500 contracts worth 12 billion riyals ($3.2bn), which is set to rise to nearly 15bn riyals by the end of 2020. On December 7, the developer awarded a contract to engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald to determine the best sustainable vehicle and fleet configuration at the destination.

How do you get there and where can you stay?

An international airport designed by Foster + Partners is set to be opened in 2022 along with the first four of 16 hotels planned for the site. The remaining 12 hotels scheduled for completion during the first phase will open in 2023, amounting to a total of 3,000 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts. Once completed in 2030, the destination will include 50 hotels offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and 1,300 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

What are Saudi Arabia's plans for developing its nascent tourism industry?

The kingdom wants tourism to contribute 10 per cent of its gross domestic product by 2030, up from 3.4 per cent currently, as part of a strategy to diversify the Arab world’s biggest economy away from oil.