Ecotourists on the trail in Tabuk
Ecotourists on the trail in Tabuk

3 smart projects underway

Ecotourism in Saudi Arabia on the rise

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While Saudi Arabia has been known for its oil in the past, the kingdom is launching a variety of ecotourism efforts for its future. Enter Vision 2030: an ambitious plan to decrease the kingdom’s oil dependence in part by increasing tourism to account for 10 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product by 2030, up from 3 percent today. The vision outlines a plan for heightened sustainability efforts across the kingdom, from large-scale “giga-project” developments to a massive tree-planting campaign.

“We are part of this world, and we live the problems and challenges it is facing,” says King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who hopes that Saudi Arabia will play a big role in developing solutions to these pressing global issues, including those related to environmental and sustainable development.

Below is an overview of several ecotourism efforts in Saudi Arabia that are currently underway.


The Red Sea Project

SA’s Red Sea Coast with an archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Coast has an archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands.

This luxury tourism development project spans an archipelago of 90 islands on the west coast of the kingdom and the shores of the Tabuk province. The giga-project, started in 2017, is meant to attract international tourism to these unspoiled islands, create up to 70,000 jobs and protect the ecosystem on the Red Sea coastline. According to The Red Sea Development Company, goals include pursuing 100 percent renewable energy, eventually generating and storing energy used onsite from renewable sources.

“We plan to implement a range of policies including zero waste to landfill, 100 percent carbon neutrality and a total ban on single-use plastics. Where the technology currently exists to achieve this, we will implement it. Where it doesn’t exist today, we will seek to develop it,” the company states on its website.

In addition to offering personalized experiences to explore the Red Sea’s coast, the company plans to become the largest certified Dark Sky Reserve.

“We are proud to announce our intention to become the first full-scale destination in the Middle East to pursue this unique accreditation, intended to safeguard the natural environment and allow guests to marvel at the beauty of the night sky,” says John Pagano, CEO of The Red Sea Development Company. “Over the centuries, explorers, trade caravans and pilgrims have used the night sky to navigate across our region. Dark Sky accreditation will allow our visitors to enjoy the same stunning nighttime panoramas that guided and inspired those historical travelers.”

  • Stargazing in Saudi Arabia
    Stargazing in Saudi Arabia

    “Over the centuries, explorers, trade caravans and pilgrims have used the night sky to navigate across our region. Dark Sky accreditation will allow our visitors to enjoy the same stunning nighttime panoramas that guided and inspired those historical travelers.”

Achievements to date: A marine spatial planning study to help preserve biodiversity and more than 30 environmental studies have been conducted. Nine islands have been designated as special conservation areas, and community training and development is underway.

Timeline: Phase 1, which includes developing five islands and two inland locations with 16 hotels offering 3,100 rooms, is due to be completed and welcoming guests by the end of 2022, with the entire project slated to be finished by 2030.


Green Riyadh

Announced under the Vision 2030 plan, the Green Riyadh project aims to increase the city’s per-capita share of green space from 1.7 square meters to 28, improve air quality, reduce temperatures and encourage healthy lifestyles. The plan includes planting 7.5 million trees across the capital city and watering all green projects with recycled water from new irrigation networks designed to reduce waste.

“There should be an emphasis on the plantation of the trees that provide wide-spreading canopies, consume minimum water and are suitable to climatic conditions of the capital,” says Riyadh’s mayor, Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Ayyaf, who is encouraging commercial centers to plant trees in their parking lots and around their campuses in support of the plan.

Achievements to date: Follow Green Riyadh’s efforts with this interactive map.

Timeline: Efforts are ongoing.


The NEOM Project

The word NEOM translates to “new future,” and that’s exactly what this sprawling project in the Tabuk region aims to achieve, and in a sustainable fashion. A centerpiece of Vision 2030, this innovation hub-meets-living laboratory is another one of the kingdom’s giga-projects. It will include smart towns and cities, research areas, enterprise zones and entertainment spots. The project’s mission is to attract more than 1 million residents as well as tourists from around the world.

“NEOM will introduce a new model for urban sustainability and be a place that is focused on setting new standards for community health, environmental protection and the effective and productive use of technology,” according to the NEOM project’s website. “It is being designed, constructed and independently administered in a way that is freed from the outdated economic and environmental infrastructure that constrains other countries.”

Achievements to date: A lot of the work going into NEOM right now involves identifying strategic partnerships, but other highlights include recent announcements that NEOM will adopt a pioneering solar technology to produce environmentally friendly water and that it will be the home to the world’s largest green hydrogen project, which aims to eliminate more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Timeline: The research and planning phases are underway, with the bulk of construction planned to take place over the next seven to 10 years.


Embark Upon an Eco-Friendly Trip

Masarat Adventure Club is a tour group specializing in exploring the world in a way that’s not detrimental to the environment. The club describes itself as “experts in spreading the spirit of exploration among youth, revitalizing Saudi tourism and leaving no trace in wilderness.” Check out the variety of packages Masarat offers, such as the Umluj Sea trip, which includes exploring virgin islands, swimming, snorkeling, hiking and camping under the stars.