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Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Global looks to lead in sustainable, regenerative tourism at COP28

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01 Dec 2023 03:12:28 GMT9
01 Dec 2023 03:12:28 GMT9
  • John Pagano: COP28 provides a global platform for discussions and decision-making between nations on the topic of climate change

Sarah Glubb

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Global is looking forward to showcasing the role of tourism development in the environment at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) this week.

John Pagano, the chief executive officer of RSG, told Arab News: “Our aim is to help lead by example and demonstrate how tourism development can play a more positive role in mitigating some of the world’s greatest challenges and support our industry peers in this transition.

“For us, communicating some of the ways in which we’ve been able to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, is key as all eyes turn to the event and its participants, looking for action not just conversation.”

The conference is being held in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 – the second consecutive Arab country to host the annual gathering after Egypt last year.

READ MORE: Click here for our coverage of COP28

“COP28 provides a global platform for discussions and decision-making between nations on the topic of climate change,” Pagano said, adding that RSG and several of its experts would be attending, exhibiting, and speaking at various elements of the forum.

RSG, which is wholly owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and was established in 2018, recently concluded its participation at the World Travel Market in London, and Pagano noted that the main difference with their participation this year was that they had been able to talk about being open.

Last month The Red Sea welcomed its first guests and two of its hotels are open for bookings, and the Red Sea International Airport has been receiving a regular schedule of flights since September.

A delegation of Saudi ministers and leaders were the first guests of The Red Sea destination, landing at Red Sea International Airport aboard a special-edition liveried Saudia flight from Riyadh. (

Pagano said: “The Red Sea, our luxurious destination situated on the western coastline of Saudi Arabia, has welcomed its first visitors, while Red Sea International Airport, which is on track to be the Middle East’s first carbon-neutral airport, has a regular schedule of flights.

“We’re excited that people can now book a vacation to come and see for themselves what we’ve achieved — awe-inspiring resorts and experiences in scenes of unrivalled beauty, underpinned by a profound respect for the area’s natural treasures,” he added.

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. The destination will also include luxury marinas, golf courses, entertainment, food and beverage, and leisure facilities.

The CEO said: “(People have been) intrigued by the opening of The Red Sea and energized by our vision of regenerative tourism, which involves improving, and not just protecting, natural environments.

“Since we started on our journey six years ago, we’ve always relished the moment we would be able to talk to industry peers about hotels and resorts being open, so our experience at this year’s WTM will always be special for us.”

He pointed out that The Red Sea opening was not the only reason it had been a year of evolution for the organization, highlighting its launch of a series of subsidiary brands designed to elevate the guest experience, including WAMA and Galaxea to provide watersports and diving experiences, and Akun to operate and manage adventure sports.

“So, it’s been great to talk to industry peers about how we envisage these entities boosting tourism to the Kingdom while upholding our commitment to sustainability,” he added.

RSG has won several awards over recent years in recognition of its efforts and initiatives to promote sustainable and eco-friendly tourism, the latest of which was achieving the highest score recorded to date in the prestigious Platinum LEED v4.1 accreditation from the US Green Building Council, which served as a testament to RSG’s dedication to sustainability and marked a major milestone in the development of regenerative tourism destinations.

On the year ahead, Pagano said: “With people visiting The Red Sea for the first time, we want to ensure that they leave with unforgettable memories and a desire to return again, so the smooth operation of the destination will be a major focus for us throughout the year.”

Developing world-class destinations will also be a priority.

“For example, Amaala – designed to offer transformative personal journeys inspired by arts, wellness, and the purity of the Red Sea – is set to welcome its first guests in 2025, so we look forward to providing further updates at next year’s conference,” he added.

Collectively RSG’s portfolio, which includes the two world-leading destinations — The Red Sea and Amaala — part of Vision 2030, are responsible and regenerative tourism destinations that will aim to enhance the Kingdom’s luxury tourism and sustainability offering, protect the natural environment, and enhance it for future generations.

Pagano said: “We are also committed to our sustainability goals and making our vision of regenerative tourism a reality.

“This year saw us complete the installation of five solar farms, laying 760,000 photovoltaic panels to power the first phase of The Red Sea destination.

“We are also delivering on our strategy for destination-wide clean mobility using electric and hybrid vehicles, boats, and aircraft.

“By 2040, we are committed to delivering a 30 percent net conservation benefit across our destinations through the enhancement of biologically diverse habitats including mangroves, seagrass, corals, and land vegetation.”

He noted that The Red Sea marine biology team monitored around 300 coral reef sites in the Red Sea, and that a pilot phase of coral gardening was now underway to establish what structures and methods worked best for propagating corals. So far, he added, the results had been extremely promising.

“Our mangrove nursery, launched in partnership with the National Center for Vegetation Cover, is on track to meet the goal of planting 50 million mangrove trees by 2030, with the first 1 million seedlings already planted. We are also exploring hands-on opportunities for guests to support coral farming and planting of mangrove seedlings.”

It is one of the programs under the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021, to plant 10 billion trees throughout the Kingdom to increase vegetation cover and help combat desertification.

The 10 billion trees are part of a total of 50 billion trees that are to be planted in the region under the Middle East Green Initiative, also launched by the crown prince the same year.

“We hope that we will have inspired others across the tourism sector to follow our lead,” Pagano said.

He added that The Red Sea and Amaala’s key features — including 24/7 renewable energy, zero single-use plastics, and zero waste to landfill — “might have sounded ambitious when we first announced them, but by 2040, we believe that they will be the norm across our industry.”

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