RIYADH: When the Red Sea project was announced on July 29, 2017, many were skeptical about the implementation of a huge project spanning an area of 28,000 square kilometers. The master plan was only half a page long. But few good people have risen to the challenge. Today, they are pioneers leading the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project.
In 2018, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia launched the Red Sea Development Company to drive the development of TRSP with 50 employees working in the shared offices of a small building. Four years later, it’s run by a team of 2,000 people, all of whom are set to launch the first phase of the project in 2023.
One of the first employees to join the project was Ihab Al Kindi, Senior Director of Business Administration at TRSDC. In 2016, Al Kindi was transferred from Saudi Aramco to facilitate the start-up of the three mega projects of the Public Investment Fund, NEOM, Qiddiya and TRSDC. He played a vital role in setting the strategic objectives, implementation methodologies and regulatory frameworks for TRSDC.
I was fortunate to be an employee of Saudi Aramco who was commissioned by the Public Investment Fund to build three amazing projects in the Kingdom. I was the second employee to join the project, playing various roles starting with shaping the project’s vision, strategy and master plans.
Another early employee is Abdul Rahman Al Daris, currently the Director of Human Resources Excellence at TRSDC. He has been closely involved in appointing a dedicated team of professionals committed to the Vision 2030 blueprint.
I have been fortunate enough to be commissioned to create three amazing projects in the Kingdom. I was one of the first employees to join the project, playing various roles starting with shaping the project’s vision, strategy and master plans.
“When I started working on the Red Sea Project in 2017, there were only a few enthusiastic people who believed in the vision and worked hard to lay the foundations for what is today one of the most anticipated destinations for the tourism market in the world,” said Aldares.
Ashwaq Al-Babtain, Senior Director of Destination Development Project at TRSDC, joined the company in April 2018 as part of 35 employees responsible for the initial phases and master plan.
“I remember the day the project was announced, and I had mixed feelings, including happiness, joy and excitement as something new was happening in the kingdom,” Al-Babtain said.
Al Babtain began her journey on the project delivery team, setting environmental guidelines and delivery strategies.
“We worked at a fast pace that I had never seen before in any organization. For example, if a task took a day on another project, it would take an hour in TRSP.”
Master plan development
“Design is an evolving process. As long as the vision is in place, the design will evolve, and the vision will be achieved,” said Faisal Butt, Executive Director of Project Delivery, TRSDC.
An employee of the project since the summer of 2017, Pat describes his early days as lively. He quickly understood the operations and needs of the undertaking, which helped him navigate through headwinds afterward.
When I first joined, there were probably about two people in the Red Sea Project and some advisors. “I still remember the day the first master plan was only half a page,” Pat said, adding that the team took a year and a half to develop the master plan.
“From then until now, we are handing over the first three hotels. I have seen the master plan evolve and come into play, and I could not be more grateful.”
The master plan was developed in partnership with US-based architecture firm WATG and UK-based engineering consultant Borough Happold. It features unique design concepts from some of the world’s most recognized architecture firms.
The project will develop 22 islands. Three of them will be completed by 2024. The three islands will contain 16 hotels, including three that will be ready next year.
“Each of these islands has its own unique value and vision. There is a uniqueness in the architecture and stature of the hospitality brands, with each having a different target market,” said Al Babtain.
The first stage is now halfway through. Several vital assets are fully operational, including a four-star hotel called Turtle Bay, on-site offices, and a large landscaped nursery.
“We want to target every segment of the market,” Al-Babtain said.
To get a sense of what TRSDC has achieved in the past five years, one needs to take a look at the strategic partnerships it has established recently. According to media reports, the company has concluded more than 800 contracts worth about $5.2 billion under the supervision of the group’s chief project delivery officer at TRSDC, Ian Williamson.
Joining in 2017, Williamson was responsible for leading the development and delivery of project planning, design and construction.
When I started working on TRSP in 2017, there were only a few passionate people who believed in the vision and worked hard to lay the foundations for what is today one of the most awaited destinations for the world’s tourism market.
Abdul Rahman Al Daris
“As one of the early adopters of the Red Sea Project, I feel very proud to be initially there with a small group of colleagues discovering the first steps on this amazing journey,” said Williamson.
Another pioneer who joined in the early stages was Andreas Floro, Chief Operating Officer of the Mobility Division.
He joined in 2017 as the 10th employee and played a role in hiring the management team.
Three years later, he joined the Mobility Division, which manages transportation within the resort, including land, sea and air transportation.
“The challenge is to provide sustainable transportation and introduce hydrogen and other environmentally friendly modes of transportation,” he said.
The company has signed several deals with electric vehicle manufacturers to supply them with cars, buses, wagons and ships.
He added that the project will contain hundreds of electric vehicles in the first phase, 40 ships and several aircraft to transport people across the islands, all of which are operational from day one of launch.
Floro also mentioned that visitors will not be allowed to drive inside the resorts, as the developers will provide all transportation on site.
The company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ZeroAvia, a British-American hydrogen-electric company, to test and develop zero-emissions travel through its new luxury tourist destination with a focus on environmental sustainability and renewal.
“The delivery will begin immediately; we are in the advanced stages of the discussion,” Floro said.
Personal and Environmental Security
TRSDC has also adopted an innovative model of medical care by creating a facility to treat its employees rather than leaving the responsibility to individual contractors, ensuring that all workers have equal access to senior medical staff and high standards of care.
According to Ahmed Darwish, the group’s chief administrative officer at TRSDC, critical security objectives included maintaining safe construction practices and ensuring that no time was wasted while constructing jetties, coastal villages and base camps.
The company is also determined to develop its tourist resorts without harming the environment.
According to Patt, there will be some environmental disturbance whenever there is human intervention, but this is not true of TRSP.
Today, I am not only helping to develop a new tourism industry for the Kingdom, but I am learning and developing as the project develops.
Amjad Al AnqariSenior marketing manager at TRSDC
“What we’ve done is show that development can happen in a way that not only protects the environment, but also regenerates it,” Pat said.
The company is setting an example in the marine project of its destination. The challenge was to preserve the flora and fauna of the land, with hundreds of people working in the vicinity. Therefore, it has enhanced off-site construction and reduced on-site work as much as possible.
“A lot of the villa structures were manufactured elsewhere and then brought in and placed on site; in some cases, we reduced the physical construction by 40 percent.”
Effects of the epidemic
The pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to all of us at TRSDC. However, we worked together as a team throughout 2020 to overcome the challenges we faced and continue to do so today,” said Darwish.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has been eager to manage its missions one way or another.
Working from home is becoming the new normal, but the harmony and passion the pandemic has left on the team has been remarkable, noted Amjad Al-Anqari, Senior Director of Marketing, TRSDC.
In some cases, the project experienced months of delays. For example, phase one was due to be completed in 2022 before the date was pushed back to mid-2023.
“We tried to reduce delays by speeding up some projects and increasing turnaround times,” Pat said.
For Butt, the challenge was not limited to 12-18 months of lockdown; It also had significant cost implications.
“The pandemic directly affected the global supply chain, which in turn affected a huge project like us that depends on supplies from around the world,” Pat said, adding that prices for a 40-foot container rose 500 percent.
Brand identity building
For Alangari, one of the first five employees of TRSDC, the journey through the company has been as eventful as her role as the company’s marketing role.
She played an integral role in the conception of the brand’s identity, including the development of its logo symbolically representing the destination islands, natural features, flora and fauna.
Al Angari and her team are also working on creating a logo that best describes the unforgettable experience the destination offers to its visitors.
The logo will be unveiled during the launch of the first phase of the project.
“Working at the Sub-Saharan Development Center has opened up many opportunities for me as a young Saudi woman. Today, I am not only helping develop a new tourism industry for the Kingdom, but I am learning and developing as the project develops.