What will you think of when you’re invited to visit the new jewel in the Middle Eastern crown? The Amaala resort on the unblemished Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia is being touted as an embryonic symbol of re-positioning the Middle East. The new development anchors are wellbeing and sustainability and the experiences being created are considered to be unmatchable and world defining. Of course, no one could have foreseen the Covid-19 pandemic or indeed, the far-reaching impact and re-imagining of future living (and spending) that has now been given an empty highway for reset.
There are opposing views of what economic recovery will look like. For the optimists, a V-shaped recovery scenario is being hoped for, others believe (labeled as pessimists) this is delusional. The truth will out.
WINNERS OF THE DOWNTURN?
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the cash fund behind the development of Amaala and is in pursuit of becoming the worlds ‘most impactful investor’. Whilst the coronavirus pandemic is decimating economies throughout the world, PIF has moved up a gear in search of lucrative buys. From Live Nation and Carnival to BP, Boeing, CityGroup and Facebook to name but a few. Hindsight will decree whether these are wise opportunities seized or a white elephant but they are demonstrating their increased dominance and fire power.
The uncertain times that we’re in are unlikely to disappear in short order. We’re already seeing a magnified and accelerated focus on the issues that were already in play pre Covid-19; rising inequality, climate change and global health challenges topped the scale then, more so now. And in turn, consumer behaviour will dictate the response to any proposition that feels tasteless or vulgar; ‘considered consumption’ is doubling down on conscious lifestyle choices and purchases that negatively affect people and planet. There was a backlash during the 2008/9 recession against lavish spending and an element of ‘luxury shame’ – will that be back and will it be more sustained? We don’t yet know.
The Amaala development will contain 2,500 luxury hotel rooms, 200 retail establishments, art galleries, marinas and 700 villas along with a dedicated airport and their target market is Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia appears to be changing but will it evolve fast enough to satiate the growing dynamic of consumer consciousness? There are a few things to note that are contributory to the change I mention;
Women are now allowed to drive. They can even do so without the permission of their father, brother or husband but at the same time, there are several female activists still in jail because of the demonstrations and passion they participated in to make this possible.
There is evident diversity beginning to emerge toward a touristic hub and the ‘Riviera of the Middle East’. Undisclosed investment in the Amaala development is happening within the nature reserve (on the Red Sea coast) owned by the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS). It is scheduled to be complete by 2028 and it is reported that it will have its own infrastructure, rules and laws, not dissimilar to the liberal feel of Dubai, at least on the surface. A stunning new dedicated airport has recently been announced to add to the exclusivity of the Amaala experience.
MBS, the de facto leader of KSA believes the Middle East can be the ‘new Europe’ – he was quoted from the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh in October 2018 as saying “I believe the new Europe is the Middle East … Saudi Arabia in five years will be completely different”. That may be opinion rather than fact but at the very least, it suggests a fundamental shift: not only in how Saudi Arabia is perceived but of how it operates, through legislation, political policy and building bridges destroyed by the Machiavellian actions of late. Will recovery from that be real in the midst of growing awareness amongst consumers?
How will those collective aspects resonate with you? By the time the resort is fully open in 2028 one would expect consciousness amongst the luxury traveller segment to be deeper and even more discerning than it is now. The world is a smorgasbord of extremes – none less than the prickly ‘elephant in the room’ polarity that is the rise in travel and the simultaneous damage to the planetary ecosystem. IATA forecasted pre Covid-19 that without government led protectionist measures, by 2037 there will be 8.2 billion air travellers – close to double the 4.3 billion in 2018. This should be a concern for every country and company involved in travel but for KSA in particular, their target consumers are the ones epitomising the awakened, purposed, bona fide transformation seeking people. The Covid pandemic adds another layer of consciousness for all travellers, the future of travel is yet to be seen but the old issues of over-tourism have changed to under-tourism and under spending.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?
The Amaala project is not only a large scale tourism hub but also a national pursuit. What if the de facto King saw an opportunity to shine in a world where the narrative and actions of peers and governments suggest regression over progress? What if the KSA vision of the ‘new Europe’ isn’t just window dressing but a reflection of radical policy and legislation re-invention? What if KSA makes it their mission to be an inclusive beacon that cuts through global division and becomes the epitome of the still elusive ‘new normal’ for rooted wellness policy and the wellbeing of all citizens regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion?
If the project and the country is set on delivering the lofty declarations it describes, they will present a country and a destination that is transformation incarnate. If they can manage it, the result will be a poster child model of modernisation, revolution, and reinvention.