What it's like to travel to Saudi Arabia's Red Sea project right now

Currently two hotels have opened in the kingdom's regenerative tourism development

The St Regis Red Sea Resort has opened in The Red Sea, on the western coast of Saudi Arabia. Photo: St Regis Resorts
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It may not be as globally talked about as the $500 billion megaproject Neom, but Saudi Arabia's ambitious regenerative tourism development, The Red Sea, has also intrigued plenty of travellers across the world.

What is The Red Sea?

The project was first announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 and has since been developed over 28,000 square kilometres of land, featuring an archipelago of more than 20 islands.

It promises pristine coastlines, unrivalled marine life and a variety of upscale accommodation options.

This is all being done in line with the principles of regenerative tourism, which, at its simplest, seeks to deliver a net positive benefit to people, places and nature, supporting the long-term renewal and flourishing of local social and ecological systems, according to a definition in the Journal of Tourism Futures.

Where is it located?

The Red Sea development is on Saudi Arabia's western coast, in the Tabuk Province, about five hours north of Jeddah.

It is also a couple of hours' drive north of Yanbu and up to a five hours from Madinah. The ancient city of AlUla is also about a four-hour drive north.

Surrounding towns include Umluj, which has been referred to as "The Maldives of Saudi Arabia", as well as Tawala and Hanak.

What is in The Red Sea development?

Look inside the Six Senses Southern Dunes resort in Saudi Arabia

Look inside the Six Senses Southern Dunes resort in Saudi Arabia

Two luxury hotels have already opened. Six Senses Southern Dunes was the first, greeting guests in November at its inland location set within the desert and dunes.

This was closely followed in January by seaside resort The St Regis Red Sea, which sits on Ummahat Island.

In 2021, the 144-room Turtle Bay Hotel opened within the project's Coastal Village, and has been used as a base for staff, employees and contractors working on creating the destination.

The eco-friendly hotel has no single-use plastics and a zero-waste-to-landfill plan. It also minimises water consumption and prioritises recycling and reuse of materials.

In September, the Red Sea International Airport also welcomed its inaugural flight, a Saudia service from Riyadh, as the development moved into the beginning phases of its official opening.

What is still to come?

The next hotel set to launch is Nujuma, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, the opening of which is currently scheduled for May, according to Marriott's website.

This will be the region's first Ritz-Carlton Reserve, joining an exclusive collection of six others around the world, in Japan, China, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Bali and Thailand.

It will be located within a collection of private islands in the Red Sea’s Blue Hole atoll.

All 38 stainless steel overwater villas and 35 beach villas have also already been installed at Shebara resort, a brand being developed by Red Sea Global, along with one more own-brand inland resort at Desert Rock, which remains on track to welcome guests later this year.

A further 11 luxury hotels are due to be completed on Shura Island – part of the first phase of the development – by 2025, which is also when the main terminal at Red Sea International Airport is expected to be ready.

The whole project is due for completion in 2030 and eventually will comprise 50 resorts, with up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

Other hotel brands that are already signed up to open here include the Four Seasons, Rosewood, Grand Hyatt and SLS.

The destination also promises marinas, golf courses, a range of entertainment options and dining outlets, and other leisure facilities.

How to get to The Red Sea right now

A twice-weekly service via Saudia Airlines between Riyadh and The Red Sea was inaugurated in September, departing from King Khalid International Airport every Thursday and Saturday. The flight takes under two hours and returns to Riyadh later the same day.

There is also a twice-weekly service on the same airline to and from Jeddah, which takes just under 90 minutes and takes off on Sundays and Thursdays.

Travellers can also head to Prince Abdul Mohsin bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Yanbu, which is just over a two-hour drive from the area.

Flydubai offers direct flights to Yanbu two or three times a week (depending on your dates).

Saudia and Qatar Airways also offering flights from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Yanbu, connecting in Riyadh or Doha.

How to get to the island resorts

In October, Red Sea Global launched the kingdom's first seaplane company to ferry visitors between island resorts using sustainable aviation fuel.

Fly Red Sea transports guests between resorts, including St Regis Red Sea Resort, operating with a fleet of four Cessna Caravan 208 seaplanes, featuring luxury interiors.

It will later expand in line with the tourism destination’s development phases, with plans to grow to nine seaplanes by 2028 and to more than 20 by 2030.

Updated: February 14, 2024, 10:06 AM