How tourism can become a catalyst for change
In the present day, where environmental challenges and unsustainable practices are prevalent, tourism can act as a catalyst in establishing a prosperous future for generations to come. Tourism has a tremendous capability to set new standards and to change the thinking behind how we engage with the planet, to drive cultural and social changes, and influence more sustainable behaviors.
Sustainability as we once knew it is now long gone. The new sustainability lies in regeneration and focuses on the enhancement of environmental, economic, and social aspects. These aspects, when adequately managed, can transform tourism into a key driver for progress. Modern tourism has undergone an awakening of sorts, driven by more conscious and aware travelers who seek meaningful and transformative experiences to reinvent themselves through giving back to the world they live in. With many of these travelers crossing borders every year, the opportunity for accelerating the shift toward a more sustainable future is massive.
This paradigm shift is pushing more destinations to re-examine their purpose and contribute to this new sustainability. Accounting for 10% of global GDP, this sector is a key player in showing the world what is possible when businesses consider purpose with a long-term outlook, instead of seeking short term profit. Ultimately, a sustainable destination equals a sustainable and successful business.
When considering such destinations, you might be surprised by recent examples of organizations breaking new ground in regenerative tourism and sustainable development, in countries you might not typically expect to be leading the way in such concepts. Take Saudi Arabia, where the tourism industry is already undergoing a major transformation of its own, led by a commitment to upgrade the Kingdom’s infrastructure, develop human capital and move to a new era of openness and economic diversification as part of its Vision2030.
Under this vision, the government has identified transformative potential in the expansion of the tourism sector to pursue ambitious goals like mobilizing sustainable developments, generating employment opportunities, and increasing the production of renewable energy. Currently, tourism accounts for just 3.4% of GDP, largely delivered by religious tourism. This number is expected to reach the global average of 10% by 2030, enabled by the implementation of several fundamental changes; tourist visas were issued in 2019 for the first time in the Kingdom’s history, with more than 350,000 granted in Q4 2019 alone. The goal is to welcome 100 million visitors annually by 2030, out of which one million visitors are expected to visit The Red Sea Project on the west coast of Saudi Arabia.
Spanning over 28,000 square kilometers, The Red Sea Project is the only giga-project in the Public Investment Fund’s portfolio solely dedicated to tourism. The luxury destination is being developed by The Red Sea Development Company and features an archipelago of more than 90 untouched islands, dormant volcanoes, mountains, and many other natural treasures. The first phase is set to complete in 2023, and will include 16 hotels across five islands and two inland resorts, a yacht marina, leisure and lifestyle amenities, and a dedicated international airport.
The Red Sea Development Company’s core philosophy lies in conservation and regeneration, inexplicably linked with social development. Their mandate is to open new areas of economic activities for local communities, nurture home talent and cultivate new career opportunities for Saudi youth. They are developing a range of partnerships and programs with Saudi ministries and international entities, along with investing significantly in training and development in order to foster the skills and capabilities needed. The company is also engaging key stakeholders and business partners to encourage their participation and contribution to their sustainability goals. This approach is already delivering meaningful livelihoods for locals and will ultimately provide more authentic experiences for prospect visitors through their engagements with local residents.
Upon completion in 2030, the destination is set to contribute SAR 22 billion a year to the Saudi economy and will create 70,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. The Red Sea Development Company provides a great example of how placing regenerative tourism principles at the forefront of design and development can create a positive ripple effect on local communities, natural ecosystems, and the overall economy of an entire country.