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RIYADH: The traditional concept of tourism is changing drastically, as many countries are gradually and seriously promoting and investing in sustainable travel.

But what is sustainable tourism and why is there such hype among countries keen to attract tourists to their natural and untouched habitats?

According to the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is defined as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, meeting the needs visitors, industry, the environment and host communities.”

To highlight the importance of sustainable tourism, UNWTO is holding its 116th session in Jeddah on June 7-8. The main theme is naturally sustainable tourism.

Proud to share the experience of TRSDC

The host country, Saudi Arabia, will certainly highlight its success in improving and promoting sustainable tourism with particular emphasis on the pride of the Kingdom – The Red Sea Development Co.

TRSDC plans to open three hotels this year and add 13 more by the end of 2023. The ambitious plans aim to create 120,000 jobs and add SR30 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product, according to the company . Brands already present include St Regis, Six Senses and other sustainability-focused ultra-luxury hotel concepts.

The company received an overall score of 91 out of 100 in last year’s environmental, social and governance assessment by the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, beating the score of 84 obtained in its very first assessment in 2020 .

In November 2021, the company received the ESG Initiative of the Year award at the 2021 Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland Awards.

This followed TRSDC’s launch of its Good Governance Toolkit to guide other organizations in Saudi Arabia on governance best practices.

The company’s senior executives realize that safeguarding and developing the landscape and shores of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia is key to attracting tourists who appreciate the hidden natural treasure of the land.

Not surprisingly, all hotels and resorts, both inland and on the islands, must comply with strict environmental rules and conditions set by TRSDC.

John Pagano, CEO of TRSDC

“Sustainability will set us apart… The Red Sea concept is about building and working with nature,” TRSDC CEO John Pagano said in an interview with Arab News. “The coral reef systems are there. For us, the goal is how to provide what we need without harming the environment. My visitors will be able to truly immerse themselves in nature.

AMAALA, under the direction of TRSDC, will also open eco-friendly resorts with an added focus on wellness. The first phase of the project, which includes nine resorts, aims to be completed by the end of 2024.

Ahmad Ghazi Darwish, Administrative Director of TRSDC, AMAALA

It is a total focus on environmental protection, commented Ahmad Ghazi Darwish, Administrative Director of TRSDC and AMAALA.

TRSDC’s desire to meet the criteria of sustainable tourism

In its efforts to achieve environmental excellence, TRSDC developed an environmental management system, producing an EMS manual in January 2021. The EMS was rolled out company-wide in mid-2021, supporting the company’s bid for the Red Sea project to achieve ISO14001:2015 certification.

“TRSDC’s EMS is intended to guide and manage TRSDC’s environmental activities throughout the design, construction and operation stages. Implementing the EMS allows TRSDC to identify areas that need improvement and actively work to improve them,” according to the company.

In 2021, the organization became one of the first companies in the Middle East to achieve ISO 9001:2015 certification for quality management for the design and construction of assets.

TRSDC has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the social investment company Ethmar and the private foundation Ghoroos which will support TRSP’s social development goals in many ways, including researching and implementing agricultural development opportunities in the project area and helping to strengthen the community service and volunteer work initiative.

TRSDC partners with Red Sea Farms

The company has also partnered with Red Sea Farms, a Saudi agri-tech company, to develop a sustainable food supply for the flagship Red Sea destination using sunlight and salt water.

Red Sea Farms will build and operate the indoor farm, growing crops to sustainably feed Red Sea Project guests and residents. It will become the main supplier of resorts and restaurants in the luxury destination.

This innovative technology uses sunlight and salt water to cool greenhouses and grow crops instead of relying on rainfall, cool groundwater or desalinated water. This saves up to 300 liters of fresh water per kilogram of product, a saving of 95% compared to other agro-tech systems. Additionally, the technology was designed and developed in the Kingdom for use in often harsh environmental conditions.

“This means reduced environmental impact and significant cost savings for growers. It also results in more nutritious crops while providing a richer taste, flavor and texture,” according to TRSDC.

Partnership with Blue Planet Ecosystem

The company’s efforts to protect the Kingdom’s ecology were also crowned with another MoU with Blue Planet Ecosystems in October 2021.

“The land-based automated recirculating aquaculture system works by replicating natural aquatic ecosystems in a modular, automated system. LARA converts carbon dioxide directly into seafood without chemicals using phyto and zooplankton as transition steps. It is built of a tower of three horizontal units. The upper unit uses the sun’s energy to grow microalgae which fuels the entire system. The microalgae are then moved to the next unit, where they feed the zooplankton. The zooplankton are then transported to the lower unit, where they are eaten by fish,” explained TRSDC.

He added that the first phase of the project would be implemented as a 3,500m2 pilot to assess whether the conditions at the TRSP are suitable for the solution to operate effectively and efficiently. This will be the first LARA pilot in the Middle East to undergo a commercial trial.

Invest in renewable energies

Last year, TRSDC made great strides in its mission to build the world’s largest tourist site powered by renewable energy on the west coast of Saudi Arabia.

In December 2021, a Saudi consortium led by ACWA Power secured $1.33 billion in funding to operate the renewable energy-based multi-utility infrastructure that will serve the site.

The multi-billion dollar project, based between Umluj and Al Wajh, covers 28,000 km2 – an area the size of Belgium – which includes more than 90 untouched islands, miles of desert dunes and mountain landscapes.

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