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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

British businessman Branson to invest in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea project

The Virgin Airlines founder will invest in the development linking 50 islands

Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, is the first international investor to commit to the kingdom’s Red Sea project. Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, is the first international investor to commit to the kingdom’s Red Sea project. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

British billionaire businessman Richard Branson will invest in an ambitious tourism project in Saudi Arabia that will transform a 200-kilometre stretch of Red Sea coastline into a luxury destination. The development will feature hotels, residences and transport hubs, AFP reported on Sunday.

Mr Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, is the first international investor to commit to the kingdom’s Red Sea project, the news agency said, citing a statement from the Saudi ministry of information.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, will provide initial investment for the project, which will link more than 50 islands, create 35,000 jobs and add 15 billion Saudi riyals (US$4bn) to the kingdom’s economy.

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Saudi Arabia plans mega Red Sea tourism project

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Mr Branson had made a trip to Saudi Arabia where he visited the Red Sea and also the tombs at Mada’in Saleh, a Unesco World Heritage site, according to a blog post on Virgin’s website.

“During my visit, I had the chance to enjoy a fascinating tour of Saudi Arabia that few people have got chance to see before,” Mr Branson wrote in the post.

“We were taken to the Red Sea, where a huge project to turn a giant lagoon into a beautiful tourism destination is

underway.”

The Red Sea project is part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan that seeks to reduce the country’s reliance on oil and diversify the economy. Tourism is considered to be a vital generator of employment for Saudi

Arabia’s young population, with the hope of 1.2 million new jobs being added in the sector by 2030.

The development will stretch across more islands between the cities of Umluj and Al Wajh, just a few kilometres from one of the kingdom’s protected reserves and extinct volcanoes in Harrat Al Rahat area.

Foundations will be laid in the third quarter of 2019, with the first phase due to be completed in late 2022.

While the PIF will fund the initial stages of the project, the plan is to later partner with leading international

companies.

The project aims to attract tourists to historic and natural landmarks in the kingdom such as the ruins of Mada’in Saleh, dating back to the 1st century. Visitors can explore the area’s flora and fauna.

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector, encompassing both luxury and domestic tourism, is set to increase in size over the medium and long term, bolstered by the Vision 2030 investments, according to BMI Research.

The research firm forecasts the country’s growth in tourism arrivals to grow 12.8 per cent in 2017 to reach a total of 22.6 million.