Sustainable tourism has come under the spotlight at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh, as the event celebrates its fifth staging.
Green development employed to help the sector recover from the devastating Covid-19 pandemic was front and centre in many discussion areas and debates at the show.
Talking about regenerative tourism, John Pagano, group chief executive Red Sea Development Company and Amaala, said: “We serve nature best by not just protecting it but by enhancing it.
“That’s what I mean when I talk about regenerative tourism.
“Regeneration goes further than sustainability.
“It’s leaving the place better than when we arrived.
“It’s what I’m passionate about and I believe we’re leading the way.”
The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) is a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, the organisers of the FII.
TRSDC was established to drive the development of the Red Sea Project, a luxury, regenerative tourism destination that will set new standards in sustainable development and position Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map.
The project is being developed over 28,000 km2 of pristine lands and waters along Saudi Arabia’s west coast and includes a vast archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands.
The destination also features sweeping desert dunes, mountain canyons, dormant volcanoes, and ancient cultural and heritage sites.
It is designed to include hotels, residential properties, leisure, commercial and entertainment amenities, as well as supporting infrastructure that emphasises renewable energy and water conservation and re-use, as well as a circular waste management system to achieve zero waste to landfill.
The development revealed its first hotel partners earlier this week during the FII.
These include Edition Hotels and St Regis Hotels & Resorts, part of Marriott International; Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts and SLS Hotels & Residences, part of global hospitality group Accor; Grand Hyatt, part of Hyatt Hotels Corporation; Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts and Six Senses, part of IHG Hotels & Resorts; and Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, a global luxury hospitality company.
“Saudi Arabia is accelerating its development of a new tourism offering in the kingdom, fuelled by the ambitious Vision 2030 program.
“We are proud to unveil our collection of unique and diverse hospitality brands that cater to this growing market and underpin our commitment to creating a world-leading barefoot luxury destination which will soon serve as a gateway to one of the last undiscovered places on the planet,” said Pagano.
“Most importantly, such partnerships with globally recognized and respected brands signifies the growing confidence in our business, our flagship destination and in Saudi Arabia as a tourism destination.”
Grand Hyatt has snapped up a spot at the new tourism development
Speaking at FII, princess Haifa Al Saud, assistant minister for executive affairs and strategy at the ministry of tourism in Saudi Arabia, said there was a need to redefine the principles that govern tourism and create a roadmap that creates new opportunities for job creation, investment and innovation.
“As a sector tourism is too big to fail but we need to focus on the environmental, social and economic sustainability of tourism as it lacks resilience,” she said.
Julia Simpson was in Saudi Arabia to confirm the deal
At the same time, Julia Simpson, chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), said now is the moment to leapfrog several generations of innovation and technology to embrace a new era of truly contactless, frictionless travel.
The WTTC earlier revealed it would host its annual Global Summit in Saudi Arabia toward the end of next year.
Speaking from the FII, Simpson added: “Since the very beginning, when the pandemic brought international travel to an almost complete standstill, Saudi Arabia has shown its total commitment to our sector, ensuring it has remained at the forefront of the global agenda.
“It has been instrumental in leading the recovery of a sector which is critical to economies, jobs and livelihoods around the world.
“For that we are grateful and want to recognise their incredible efforts by bringing the Global tourism sector to the Kingdom next year.”
Further details of the WTTC Global Summit in Riyadh will be announced in due course.
Al Khateeb, minister for tourism for Saudi Arabia, said: “I welcome the decision to choose Saudi Arabia as the host country for a WTTC Global Summit in 2022.
“This is a critical forum for the private sector and government to come together to redesign tourism for the future, and it is fantastic to hold this event in the kingdom.
“This is recognition of Saudi leadership to help the global tourism sector recover, and importantly, become more sustainable.”
Ahmad Arab, deputy minister for strategy and business intelligence with the Saudi ministry of tourism, said sustainability and training are two of the fundamentals of our tourism development strategy.
He added: “We are committed to simultaneously safeguarding our natural resources and investing in our people for a sustainable future on every level.
“It is why we have already trained 127,000 people across 14 sectors in the hospitality sector.”
Saudi Arabia vice minister for culture, Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, spoke at the event
Saudi Arabia vice minister for culture, Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, highlighted a list of over 100 cultural initiatives, engagements and events taking place in the kingdom before the end of the year.
He pointed to the vibrant and varied schedule which includes many events led by the 25 cultural institutions the ministry of culture has launched since its inception three years ago.
During a panel appearance at the FII, Fayez said that Saudi culture is being uncovered and energised at an unprecedented scale and pace.
He argued the ambitions of the kingdom are presenting many opportunities for both the local and international private sector, and that Saudi Arabia is already actively contributing to the global creative industry.
“This is an exciting time for culture in Saudi Arabia.
“In the coming weeks alone, we will host our first major international film festival, our first art biennale and international festivals like Fashion Futures and MDLBeast,” said Fayez.
“These events flow from the steady progress to nurture creativity and create a vibrant cultural economy in the kingdom.”
In other signs of newfound ambition, the ministry has developed a strategy that will open new cultural investment opportunities through public-private partnerships or joint ventures, bolster the infrastructure around creative industries, and ease regulation to allow businesses to thrive.
Coupled with growing demand for culture across the kingdom, the changing Saudi cultural landscape has already caught the eye of international investors.
Fayez was quick to point out that the ministry’s role was not limited to the promotion of the creative industries inside the kingdom but also to increasing and improving the quality of culture exchange with its global peers.
“I am deeply proud of the kingdom successfully campaigning for culture and the creative industries to be formally part of the conversation at the G20,” said Fayez during his panel discussion.
“It started during Saudi’s presidency last year and has continued, which means we have ensured culture has a permanent place in G20 considerations and is part of the global economic agenda.”
Sébastien Bazin led the Accor delegation in Saudi Arabia
Elsewhere at the FII, the Saudi Tourism Development Fund (TDF) and Ennismore signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the establishment of a US$400 million fund that would bring the company’s lifestyle brands to at least 12 destinations in the country.
Under the deal, TDF would identify locations and provide financing options for projects throughout the kingdom, while Ennismore would lead on programming, design and operations of the destinations, under its lifestyle brands.
Created in 2021, Ennismore is a joint venture between founder Sharan Pasricha and Accor, creating the largest and fastest-growing lifestyle company in the world.
The development of lifestyle destinations – an undersupplied segment of the Saudi tourism industry – would align with the National Tourism Strategy’s ten key destinations, including Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province, Aseer, Al Ula, Taif, Madinah, Al-Baha, Hail and Al-Jouf, delivering around 2,000 keys.
TDF would continue to provide new opportunities for private sector investors in the Saudi tourism space, while aligning with wider sustainable tourism efforts throughout the kingdom, prioritising the protection of nature and supporting local communities.
Both TDF and Ennismore are committed to employing, training, and developing Saudi talent, creating up to 3,000 jobs.
Increasing the presence of lifestyle hospitality brands is at the heart of the strategy for welcoming brands that take an active role in driving community and build deep connections with guests through shared values, unique design, and authentic restaurant destinations, both for international visitors and locals.
During a ceremony attended by Ahmed Al Khateeb, minister of tourism for Saudi Arabia and chairman of TDF, Sébastien Bazin, chief executive of Accor, Qusai Al-Fakhri, chief executive of TDF, signed the deal in the presence of Sharan Pasricha and Gaurav Bhushan, co-chief executives of Ennismore.
Al-Fakhri said: “This memorandum marks an important milestone for TDF as we continue to enable private sector investors to benefit from the massive opportunities offered by Saudi’s growing tourism sector.
“The fund would channel private sector investments to various areas of the Kingdom, enriching the visitor experience and enhancing the value of strategic projects through globally renowned hospitality brands.
“These new lifestyle destinations would create unique experiences for visitors and residents to enjoy, providing them with exciting entertainment and food and beverage offerings, as well as co-working spaces.
“They would also focus on ensuring the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of the areas they are located in.”
TDF was established in June 2020 with a capital of US$4 billion to drive tourism growth in Saudi Arabia.
The Fund works to unify the efforts of the tourism sector and its partners including lenders, operators, and service providers, to enhance the investment experience and facilitate private sector access to opportunities in various regions of the Kingdom that are distinguished by their natural, geographical and cultural offering.
Find out more about the Future Investment Initiative on the official website.