Aradhana Khowala

As Saudi Arabia’s ambitious giga project, The Red Sea, gears up to welcome its first guests in the next few months, the chair of its advisory board reveals key details about the destination to Megan Whitby and shares her passion for regenerative tourism

Aradhana Khowala is a strategy specialist in travel and hospitality, diversity, inclusion and women’s health.

With qualifications from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Cornell and INSEAD, she’s leveraging her experience to chair the advisory board for Red Sea Global (RSG) – the developer behind The Red Sea, a resort destination nearly the size of Belgium.

RSG is owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi. The Red Sea, billed as one of the most ambitious ever tourism infrastructure projects, extends across 28,000sq km of Saudi Arabian coastline.

Construction began in 2019 and work is on track to welcome guests in early 2023 when the first hotels open. This initial phase of development is set for completion in 2024, by which time it will boast 16 hotels, including wellness-focused brands such as Six Senses, Miraval, Raffles and Rosewood (see p54).

Once the entire destination is finished in 2030, it will have 50 hotels stretching across 22 islands and six inland locations, offering 8,000 hotel rooms and 1,300 residential properties.

The Red Sea will also have an international airport, which will be operational next year, marinas, golf courses and entertainment and leisure facilities.

The overall aim is to attract a million visitors a year – capped in line with its sustainability ambitions – by 2030 creating 70,000 jobs and contributing SAR22bn (US$5.9bn, €5.1bn, £4.3bn) to the nation’s GDP.

Khowala, who’s been running her tourism consultancy Aptamind Partners for 15 years, says RSG’s commitment to regenerative travel is game changing as it raises standards and accelerates the pace of change for everybody else.

The company has committed to creating a destination with a net positive conservation impact, taking measures to not only keep the site as close to its natural state as possible, but also to enhance it.

Developed in partnership with WATG and Buro Happold, the masterplan focuses on the pristine natural environment, which is home to the world’s fourth-largest barrier reef system, untouched corals and a significant number of endangered species. RSG’s in-house scientists have recently concluded an 11-month-long Environmental Baseline Survey to assess the needs of the ecosystem ahead of and during development, as well as after opening.

Khowala sat down with Spa Business to give the lowdown on the project.

How does Red Sea link to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy?
It’s the largest of six giga projects that make up Vision 2030, the government’s strategy to increase Saudi Arabia’s tourist industry revenues from the current 3 per cent of GDP, to 10 per cent by 2030.
RSG’s combined projects will contribute approximately SAR33bn (US$8.7bn, €8.5bn, £7.2bn) to GDP, coupled with 120,000 new jobs.

I feel honoured to be able to support the transformation and the development of an industry that creates jobs, drives economic growth and showcases the richness of Saudi culture to the world.

What’s the vision for the project?
The goal is to put people and the planet first, leveraging innovative technologies to deliver projects that enhance the wellbeing of customers, communities and environments. By doing so, it will open Saudi Arabia’s doors to a new wave of tourism.

Guests will be able to experience the diverse landscape and rich history and culture of the region, exploring dormant volcanoes, diving with turtles, star gazing in one of the most stunning places on earth or swimming in a turquoise lagoon. They’ll come away with treasured memories of both the natural environment and the extraordinary hospitality.

Why is regenerative tourism a priority?
All too often tourism is disruptive – and sometimes damaging – for destinations. Globally tourism accounts for 10 per cent of CO2 emissions and this is expected to rise by 25 per cent by 2030. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our project is centred on the belief that nature is the world’s most important asset and we all have a part to play in protecting it. Regenerative tourism is the commitment to implementing policies that don’t just avoid harming the environment, but actively enhance it.

This philosophy is expressed in one of our aims: delivering a net conservation benefit of 30 per cent to the surrounding area by 2040. To support this commitment we utilised marine spatial planning software to generate a picture of our lagoon. We then assessed the potential environmental impacts of our development and the opportunities to optimise conservation benefits, leading to the decision to leave 75 per cent of the islands untouched and designate nine as special conservation zones.

This year we also released our Environmental Baseline Report which collates detailed information about the surrounding ecosystem. It analyses the populations, behaviours and habitats of the wildlife across 200km of Red Sea coastline and will inform our development plans and conservation efforts.

We want to show that development, tourism and environmental destruction don’t have to go hand in hand if done in the right way.

When will the first phase open?
The first hotels will welcome guests in early 2023 and the project will be fully operational by 2030.

We’re constantly adapting and working on solutions to the challenges we face and given our ongoing commitment to improving the natural surroundings and economic vitality of the region, I can only see our work increasing as time goes on.

How important will wellness be to attract guests?
We’re aiming to provide an all-encompassing experience, in which wellness will play an important part. Some activities will encourage guests to experience the natural environment and heritage at a personal level. These include a range of culinary, musical and artisanal activities, as well as hikes and guided eco-excursions on land and sea, such as hiking on dormant volcanoes and observing rare animals and plants in their natural habitat.

Some of the world’s most iconic hotel brands are involved (see ‘Project Partners’ table) and many of these are well-known for their health and wellness offerings, such as Rosewood, Miraval, Raffles and Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Six Senses will be operating our Southern Dunes resort that will include a holistic anti-ageing centre, sensory suites, wet zones and outdoor treatment cabanas.

What kind of visitors do you expect to attract?
Our airport will be within eight hours’ flying time of 80 per cent of the global population, so we hope we’ll have a very diverse guestbook.

What does regenerative tourism mean to you?
My passion stems from the fact that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and ignore the widening gap between what we talk about and what’s happening around us.

I founded my consultancy, Aptamind, with a mission to make sustainability, community empowerment and diversity and inclusion non-negotiable pillars for every business in the travel, tourism and hospitality sector.

We lobby about the importance of these values, both in terms of economic power and positive change in the societies and communities that travel touches.

Why is it important for business?
I genuinely believe the most successful companies of the future will be those that profit from fixing the world’s problems, not from creating them.

Regenerative tourism isn’t anti-growth; it simply asks that we grow the things that matter most in ways that benefit the entire system and not at the expense of others.

Public opinion is shifting so fast that those businesses sensing and responding to the emerging need to be regenerative are gaining ground while others are being left behind.

Increasingly, guests are developing an appetite for connecting with the soul of a destination. The community-enhancing regeneration that underpins higher levels of care for everyone is a real differentiator.

• What's the latest with Amaala, Saudi's wellness-focused giga project? Read our interview with Stephan Wagner on p44

The Red Sea – Sustainability initiatives

• Relying on 100 per cent renewable energy, using solar and wind

• Operating as a carbon-neutral destination

• Banning the use of single-use plastic

• Implementing dark sky lighting measures to reduce light pollution

• Pledging to send zero waste to landfill or the sea

• Mitigating noise pollution

• Creating a battery storage facility to allow the destination to remain off-grid during sandstorms

• Bringing in hydroponic greenhouses and vertical farming to help local farmers meet new demand

• Utilising low-carbon concrete made from recycled raw materials

• Promoting walkability

• Adopting a clean mobility strategy built around electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, boats and aircraft

• Organising marine clean-ups with the local community

• Establishing a plant nursery that will grow 15 million plants for landscaping by 2030

Project Partners
International hotel brands

Edition Hotels



Grand Hyatt





Ritz-Carlton Reserve


Six Senses

SLS Hotels & Residences

St Regis

Architectural firms

Foster + Partners

Killa Design

Kengo Kuma

RSG advisory board members
September 2022/alphabetically

• Philippe Cousteau Jr, president, EarthEcho International

• Carlos Duarte, professor, Red Sea Research Centre

• Maryam Ali Ficociello, chief governance officer, RSG

• Sue Harmsworth, founder, Espa

• Frances-Anne Keeler, specialist in tourism destination marketing

• Aradhana Khowala, CEO, Aptamind Partners

• Piers Schmidt, founder, Luxury Branding

• Horst Schulze, co-founder of Ritz-Carlton, chair and CEO Capella

• Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan,fifth president of the Maldives

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