JEDDAH: Saudi Red Sea Development Company aims to take the lead in the transition towards sustainable development, according to CEO John Pagano.
“We want to lead the global tourism industry in the transition towards sustainable development but, in fact, we want and need to do more. For us, sustainability is not enough. We need to aim higher. We want regeneration to be the ultimate goal for global tourism,” he said.
Speaking on sustainability and regenerative tourism at a G20 media briefing on Tuesday, Pagano said he loves Victor Hugo’s maxim: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
He pointed out that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has provided a pause in people’s lives, a moment for reflection on what is important in life. “People are now openly saying that the world will not be the same after COVID-19, and I believe that is truly the case.”
The CEO added that the pandemic in one way or another is connected to our current ecological and climate crisis. “It is estimated that over 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, that is they’re transferred from animals to humans, which itself is directly related to human activities, like deforestation and the destruction of wetlands. So, let us seize this historic opportunity to hit the reset button. To integrate into this brave new world a greater respect for our environment, for biodiversity and for planet.”
Pagano noted that the move towards sustainable development is not only desirable, but essential, adding that today the world has the knowledge, technology and nature-based solutions to achieve sustainable development.
He added that their mission at the Red Sea Development Company is “quite simple – to use the transformative potential of the tourism industry, to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable development while helping to fulfill one of the main ambitions of Vision 2030, which is diversifying the economy.”
He stressed that tourism is strategically important as a global economic sector. Before COVID-19, tourism represented over 10 percent of global GDP and provided one in 10 jobs.
Amid the current global despair, he added, there is a sense of an emerging optimism, and he believes the tourism industry will recover fast once borders reopen.
Pagano said that his anticipation doesn’t rely on optimism, but rather on learning from history. “Think about the great financial crisis or previous pandemic like SARS and MERS, even 9/11 when it was safe to travel, people did so in numbers that grew exponentially,” he said. “If we look at recent cruise line bookings and hotel occupancies, they all suggest that there is a strong desire to return to travel.”
More recently, he added, if we look at the stock market reaction to the Pfizer and Moderna announcements, travel-related stocks jumped as much as 30 to 40 percent on the news, which suggested the market certainly believes the travel has strongly rebounded.
However, the CEO said, the issue is “how to use this opportunity to rebuild something that is far more sustainable than what we’ve ever had in the past.”
Before the pandemic struck, travelers were already looking for meaningful and responsible experiences. He said travelers were looking for transformative experiences to reconnect with nature and the destination or simply to travel with a purpose.
According to Pagano, travel will be greener, smarter and less crowded in the post-COVID-19 world. “These were the foundations for our project before the pandemic. We were already there. The new ideal destination needs to be a leading example of how things should work to protect the local assets, starting with its natural capitals, i.e., the environment; to protect the quality of life for local people, offering them new opportunities to benefit from tourism.”