Saudi Arabia is pushing forward with its $500 billion mega-city project, NEOM. Just this January, development on the Red Sea project was announced to have commenced on the city's first residential area, NEOM Bay.
The area will have “white beaches, a mild climate and an attractive investment environment,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. Work was expected to launch in Q1, with the completion of Phase 1 of NEOM Bay by 2020.
"NEOM Bay will provide an ideal environment that focuses on improving health and well-being for its residents, offering next-generation technologies in mobility and creating an intelligent urban ecosystem with advanced infrastructure," SPA said.
With construction well underway, Travel Weekly (TW) spoke with John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Co (TRSDC). about the progress on NEOM and what it means to Saudi Arabia.
When asked about the overall progress of the project, he said that "the first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in 2022 and will include 14 hotels providing 3,100 rooms across five islands and two inland resorts. Phase One will also include a yacht marina, leisure and lifestyle amenities and an airport as well as the necessary supporting logistics and utilities infrastructure."
As for non-Saudi companies investing in the mega project, he told TW that "we are talking to major hotel brands at the luxury end of the market, and we have received very positive feedback on the quality of the destination and the growth opportunity presented by the development of the Saudi tourism industry."
Pagano said that the project is targeting the luxury traveler segment, "in line with current industry trends."
As with other GCC countries like the UAE, a large portion of tourists originate from Western Europe and North America. However, he does highlight Asia as "an emerging force."
"In particular, the Middle Eastern tourism and leisure market is forecast to grow faster than average, led by visitors from Asia and Europe," he continued.
Pagano explained that Phase One will allow the project to accommodate 300,000 visitors.
"Once complete, the destination is planned to offer 48 hotels with 8,000 rooms across 22 islands and six inland sites, for an annual capacity of around 1 million visitors per year."
"Overtourism and the associated environmental costs" are top concerns for the project board, leading to careful management of this hub in order to provide the best possible touristic experience while putting a damper on the side effects to the environment as a result.