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RIYADH: When the Red Sea Project was announced on July 29, 2017, many were skeptical about the execution of a gigantic project spanning 28,000 km². The master plan was only half a page. But, a few good people rose to the challenge. Today, they are the pioneers of the most ambitious regenerative tourism project in the world.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund launched The Red Sea Development Co. to spearhead the development of TRSP with 50 employees based in shared offices in a small building. Four years later, it is powered by a team of 2,000 people, ready to launch the first phase of the project in 2023.
One of the first employees to join the project was Ehab Alkindi, Senior Director of Business Administration at TRSDC. In 2016, Alkindi was recruited by Saudi Aramco to facilitate the launch of PIF’s three giga-projects NEOM, Qiddiyah and TRSDC. He has been instrumental in establishing TRSDC’s strategic objectives, execution methodologies and regulatory frameworks.
“I was fortunate to be the employee of Saudi Aramco who the PIF assigned to establish three magnificent projects in the Kingdom. I was the second employee to join the project, playing various roles, starting with the developing the vision, strategy and master plans for the project,” he said.
Another early employee is Abdulrahman Aldaris, currently TRSDC’s Senior Director of Human Resources Excellence. He was closely involved in hiring a team of dedicated professionals committed to the Vision 2030 plan.
“When I started working on The Red Sea Project in 2017, there were only a handful of passionate people who believed in the Vision and worked hard to lay the foundations for what is today one of of the most anticipated destinations for the tourism market in the world,” said Aldaris.
Ashwaq AlBabtain, Senior Project Manager, Destination Development at TRSDC, joined the company in April 2018 as one of 35 employees responsible for the initial phases and master plan.
“I remember the day the project was announced, and I felt mixed emotions including happiness, joy and excitement as something new was happening in the Kingdom,” AlBabtain said. .
AlBabtain began its journey in the project delivery team, setting up environmental guidelines and delivery strategies.
“We worked at a rapid pace that I have never seen in any organization. For example, if a task took you a day in another project, it would take you an hour in TRSP,” she added.
Development of the master plan
“Design is an evolutionary process. As long as the vision is there, the design will evolve and the vision will be realized,” said Faisal Butt, Executive Director of Project Delivery, TRSDC.
A project employee since the summer of 2017, Butt describes his early days as dynamic. He quickly assimilated business processes and needs, which helped him navigate headwinds later on.
“When I arrived there were maybe about two people in the Red Sea project and a few consultants. I still remember the day when the first master plan was only half a page,” Butt said, adding that it took the team a year and a half to come up with the master plan.
“By then, we deliver the first three hotels. I saw the master plan evolve and come to life, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” he added.
The master plan was developed in partnership with US architecture firm WATG and UK engineering consultant Buro Happold. It features unique design concepts from some of the world’s most prominent architectural firms.
The project will develop 22 islands; three of them will be completed by 2024. The three islands will contain 16 hotels, three of which will be ready next year.
“Each of these islands has its unique value and vision. There is the uniqueness of the architecture and positioning of hotel brands, each with a different target market,” said AlBabtain.
The first phase is now halfway through. Several vital assets are fully operational, including a four-star hotel called Turtle Bay, on-site offices and a large landscape nursery.
“We want to target all market segments,” AlBabtain said.
To get an idea of what TRSDC has accomplished over the past five years, one must look at the strategic partnerships it has forged recently. According to media reports, the company has secured more than 800 contracts worth around $5.2 billion under the supervision of TRSDC Group Project Delivery Director Ian Williamson.
Joined in 2017, Williamson was tasked with leading the development and delivery of project planning, design and construction.
“As one of the first employees of The Red Sea Project, I am extremely proud to have been there at the start with a small group of colleagues to determine the first steps of this incredible journey,” said Williamson.
Andreas Flourou, executive director of operations within the mobility department, is another pioneer who joined in the early stages.
He joined the company in 2017 as the tenth employee and was instrumental in recruiting the administrative team.
Three years later, he joined the mobility department which manages transport within the station, including land, sea and air mobility.
“The challenge is to provide sustainable transport and to introduce hydrogen and other environmentally friendly modes of mobility,” he said.
The company has signed several agreements with manufacturers of electric vehicles to supply them with cars, buses, buggies and boats.
He added that the project would have hundreds of electric vehicles in the first phase, 40 ships and several planes to move people across the islands, all to be operational from day one of launch.
Flourou further stated that no visitors will be allowed to drive their cars inside the stations as the promoters will provide all transportation on site.
The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with ZeroAvia, a British-American hydrogen-electric aviation company, to test and develop zero-emission travel in its new luxury tourist destination focused on sustainability and environmental regeneration .
“Delivery will begin immediately; we are at an advanced stage of discussion,” Flourou said.
Personal and environmental safety
TRSDC has also adopted an innovative model of medical care by establishing a facility to care for its employees rather than leaving the responsibility to individual contractors, ensuring that all workers have equal access to superior medical personnel and high standards of care.
According to Ahmad Darwish, Group Administrative Director of TRSDC, crucial safety objectives included maintaining safe construction practices and ensuring zero lost time incidents during the construction of sea piers, coastal villages and base camps.
The company is also determined to develop its tourist resorts without harming the environment.
According to Butt, there will be environmental disturbances whenever there is human intervention, but that does not apply to the TRSP.
“What we’ve done shows that development can happen in a way that not only protects the environment but also regenerates it,” Butt said.
The company sets an example in the maritime project of its destination. The challenge was to preserve the flora and fauna on the ground, with hundreds of people working nearby. Thus, he maximized off-site construction and minimized on-site work as much as possible.
“Much of the structure of the villas was made elsewhere and then brought and placed on site; in some cases, we have reduced the physical construction by 40%,” he added.
The aftermath of the pandemic
“The pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge for all of us at TRSDC. However, we worked together as a team throughout 2020 to overcome the challenges faced and continue to do so today,” said Darwish.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group was keen to manage their tasks somehow.
Working from home has become the new norm, but the harmony and passion the pandemic has left the team with was remarkable, Amjaad Alangari, Senior Marketing Manager, TRSDC, pointed out.
In some cases, the project has been delayed for months. For example, the first phase was due to end in 2022 before pushing the date back to mid-2023.
“We’ve tried to reduce delays by speeding up some of the projects and increasing some work times,” Butt said.
For Butt, the challenge was not limited to the 12-18 months of confinement; it also had substantial cost implications.
“The pandemic has had a direct impact on the global supply chain, which in turn has affected a large giga-project like ours that depends on supplies from around the world,” Butt said, adding that prices for a forty-foot container soared 500%.
Building brand identity
For Alangari, one of TRSDC’s first five employees, her journey within the company has been as eventful as her role as a marketer.
She has been instrumental in designing the brand’s identity, including developing its logo which symbolically represents the islands, natural attributes, flora and fauna of the destination.
Alangari and his team are also designing a slogan that best describes the unforgettable experience the destination has to offer its visitors.
The slogan will be unveiled at the launch of the first phase of the project.
“Working at TRSDC has opened up many opportunities for me as a young Saudi woman. Today, not only am I helping to develop a whole new tourism industry for the Kingdom, but I am learning and growing as I go. as the project develops,” said Alangari.