The board of directors of Saudi Arabia's state-owned Red Sea Development Co. has approved the group's ambitious plan for making the kingdom a luxury, eco-tourism destination.

The master plan calls for development of more than 10,000 hotel rooms and luxury residences across 22 of the more than 90 islands in an area of the Red Sea that is one of the world's last untouched marine wonderlands.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2022, includes an airport, 14 luxury hotels with 3,000 rooms across five islands as well as two inland resorts, yacht marinas and other leisure amenities and infrastructure.

The company said the plan, developed by architects at WATG and engineers with Buro Happold, was carefully drafted and redrafted with information from a series of wide-ranging environmental studies to ensure that the ecologically sensitive area is protected during and after development. 

It also preserves some 75% of the destination's islands for conservation and designates nine islands as sites of significant ecological value to avoid disrupting endangered species native to the area.

"The design concepts that we have presented to the board will provide visitors with a uniquely diverse, immersive experience while setting new standards in sustainable development, and positioning Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map," said Red Sea Development Co. CEO John Pagano. 

"With the master plan approved, we are now identifying investors and partners who are interested in working with us on realizing the objectives of the project and who share our commitment to enhance, not exploit, the natural ecosystems that make the destination so unique."

The Red Sea Project is Saudi Arabia's first big play to for generating luxury tourism beyond business and religious visitors and is a key component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030 strategy" for diversifying the kingdom's economy.

The project is expected to create up to 70,000 jobs and to contribute $5.3 billion to the nation's GDP, the company said.


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