Interview

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

Faena

Fairmont

Grand Hyatt

InterContinental

Jumeirah

Miraval

Raffles

Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Rosewood

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

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: Myrtha Wellness
Myrtha Pools was founded in 1961 in Italy by the engineer Giorgio Colletto and through research and development has become leader in the swimming pool industry and has created an international brand.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The existing architecture will be preserved where possible
Monica von Schmalensee
"how often do you get to move a whole town?"

White Arkitekter’s Monica von Schmalensee on how culture and leisure are central to plans to move the Swedish town of Kiruna to stop it being swallowed by its mine

The interior showcases a mix of reclaimed industrial features and was designed by Studio C102
"We’re passionate about market disupters – companies with conviction and a will to change"

The founders of new microgym 1Rebel

The biggest tree that was moved is nicknamed ‘King Tree’
"This carefully choreographed interplay of room and courtyard extends through all scales of the masterplan"

The desire to save a threatened forest and historic buildings in China led to a truly unique resort, We speak to the people that made it happen

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
One of Starck’s guestrooms
Kravitz and Starck worked on the project
"A cheeky interpretation of luxury hospitality"

Collaborate on the W Las Vegas

Kéré’s design is inspired by a tree in his hometown of Gando, Burkina Faso
Kéré told CLAD that the value of great public spaces ‘cannot be measured by money’
"Well designed public spaces are the foundation of a healthy society"

How he designed this year's Serpentine Pavilion

features
Mikyoung Kim
"Nature isn’t rigid. It’s open-ended; that’s its beauty"

The Boston-based landscape architect on blending art and science to design creative spaces that bring communities closer

The family spend time together at the Swartberg House in South Africa, resting and recharging from their hectic life in London
"It’s important for people to be rooted in place. This is a very special house, with powerful connections to nature"

Jennifier Beningfield has built her dream home in South Africa, using ancient building methods

The Lyric Theatre Complex is part of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District
Bos studied history of art in London and urban and regional planning at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands
"I like art that is against the mainstream, slightly off, with a twist"

UNStudio’s co-founder on the unexpected challenges of designing Australia’s tallest skyscraper

cladkit product news
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
cladkit product news
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
cladkit product news
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
The event will allow buyers and suppliers to meet
Magali Robathan
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo ...
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...