Saudi Arabia's AMAALA on track for delivery ahead of Vision 2030
Nicholas Naples, the CEO of AMAALA, talks with CW on achieving net-zero sustainability standards from the ground up
Saudi Arabia’s AMAALA gigaproject – led by Crown Prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – is taking shape in the northwestern coast of the kingdom.
The gigaproject, which is currently in Phase 1 of development, covers 4,155km2 of unspoilt terrain across land and sea, and is located between the kingdom’s NEOM development and The Red Sea Project.
Sharing progress details in an exclusive conversation with Construction Week, the chief executive officer of AMAALA, Nicholas Naples, says: “With the master plan approved by our board of directors, an extensive feasibility has just been completed, with contractors already on-the-ground conducting the necessary assessments and ground works.”
AMAALA – an ultra-luxury resort destination, expected to be completed ahead of the realisation of the Saudi Vision 2030 – will feature a trio of communities, including Triple Bay, The Coastal Development, and The Island. Each community will offer different experiences to its visitors.
Naples explains: “Triple Bay will be the world’s most comprehensive wellness retreat supported by top-tier luxury medical and integrative wellness resorts, as well as varied recreational activities. Triple Bay will also be home to a sports performance academy, an equestrian resort and polo academy, as well as world-class sports facilities including golf, tennis, equestrian, polo, camel, and falconry.”
“The Coastal Development will be home to leading arts and cultural events, and feature a cultural district comprising a museum of contemporary art, a film festival venue, performing arts venues, and a biennale park,” he adds.
“The Island will become one of the world’s most exclusive enclaves, offering exquisitely designed Arabic botanical gardens showcasing works of art, sculptures, and landscapes surrounding private residences.”
AMAALA: An “extension of the environment”
As part of Phase 1, AMAALA has appointed a number of partners who will bring the gigaproject to life over the coming years.
London-headquartered architectural design and engineering firm Foster+Partners has been appointed as the executive architect for the masterplan and will bring to life innovative and sustainable design solutions across AMAALA’s hospitality, residential, and retail offerings.
International design firm HKS Architects has been appointed as master planner for Triple Bay and The Coastal Development; while Denniston, led by multi-award-winning French-Belgian architect, Jean-Michel Gathy, will be master planners of The Island.
Commenting on the gigaprojects design plans, Naples says: “We conceived AMAALA as a natural extension of its environment, and its contemporary architectural language will flow and be inspired by Saudi Arabian cultural heritage and its natural surroundings. Our trio of communities – Triple Bay, The Coastal Development, and the Island – will be distinct in purpose as well as design.”
He adds: “The AMAALA advisory board is made up of titans, experts, and leaders from diverse industry sectors, all of whom will be instrumental in designing the AMAALA experience.”
In accordance with the advisory board’s charter, industry experts and leaders will meet two to four times per year to review progress and discuss the gigaproject’s vision on sustainability, conservation, hospitality, health and wellness, as well as art.
AMAALA’s hospitality segment will be guided by heads of hospitality, including the president of AGC Consulting, Antoine Corinthios; the CEO of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Neil Jacobs; the general manager of Beverly Hills Hotel, Dorchester Collection, Edward Mady; and the general manager of the Saint-Tropez Tourist Office, Claude Maniscalco; the director and owner of Rafael Group SAM, Georg R. Rafael; and the chairman emeritus of Capella Hotels, Horst Schulze.
Once developed, AMAALA is expected to include 2,500 hotel rooms, and more than 800 residential villas, apartments, and estate homes, in addition to 200 fashion and retail brands.
The vice president of Pontiac Land, and owner of the Capella Hotel Group, Evan Kwee; and the chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, Barry Sternlicht, are on the Advisory Board to guide the gigaproject’s real estate and financing.
“In addition, Solenne Blanc, the deputy CEO of Beaux Arts & Cie, and senior advisor for EY on media and cultural industries; as well as Thomas Krens, the chairman and CEO of Global Cultural Asset Management will guide us on the arts and culture front,” Naples adds.
Sustainability: “The heart of AMAALA”
Nestled within a natural reserve, AMAALA will also set an example for sustainability and eco-conservation in the region.
Naples says: “The dean of science and professor of marine, ecology, and ecotoxicology at UNSW Sydney, Emma Johnston, will counsel us on the advisory board of our sustainability initiatives.”
In addition, the gigaproject has inked a partnership agreement with The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to work on oceanographic and marine life research.
As part of the deal, joint conservation initiatives will be explored to benefit the world’s oceans through the effective management of coral reefs; protection of iconic species; enforcement of Marine Protected Areas (MPA); as well as preventing plastic pollution.
“Sustainability is at the heart of AMAALA. The goal of being net carbon neutral has been in play from day one of our operations,” Naples adds.
“Sustainability has never been undertaken and embraced on a project of this scale before – existing properties’ sustainability aspirations largely involve playing catch-up to balance offsets, but AMAALA will be meeting these standards from the ground up, creating a coastal oasis that elevates the role of responsible tourism globally.”
AMAALA is carrying out its design and development in line with the highest global standards, and is working with its partners to meet the highest levels of sustainability throughout the design, build, and operation phases.
“We have identified more than 15 key criteria for sustainability standards, covering everything from the use of full solar fields to waste management and recycling,” Naples explains.
For instance, AMAALA’s water production plans include a dedicated desalination plant that has zero impact on the coral reefs.
“All wastewater will be treated and reused in agriculture, while all organic waste will be used in agriculture, including Triple Bay’s organic farm. Only biodegradable materials will be used within the resort, while energy requirements will be met by using renewable sources, with the entire AMAALA development having a zero-carbon footprint.”
AMAALA is being developed in line with the Saudi Vision 2030’s sustainability goals and the preservation of heritage sites; the UN 2030 Agenda; and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals will not only be met within the development of the gigaproject, but will also set standards for future research.
“Through the Marine Life Institute at AMAALA, alongside our partners, we will integrate local and international marine life conservation, research, and education, developing oceanographic and marine life research and conservation initiatives, which can then be applied to Saudi Arabia’s waters, and the world’s seas,” Naples says.
Shining the spotlight on arts, sports, and entertainment
AMAALA is also developing yachting facilities and amenities to leverage its prime location along the Red Sea.
“Lack of infrastructure has prevented the growth of luxury yachting for domestic and international visitors in the past, but with AMAALA’s comprehensive yachting portfolio, this will change,” Naples explains.
AMAALA will offer yachting havens, inspired by iconic international harbours, and will offer private membership yacht clubs and carefully designed marinas with floating docks. The destination will also offer covered onshore storage, with year-round yacht protection.
In addition, “events docks” in the regatta marina will offer facilities for international races and regattas.
Naples adds: “Diving and submarine experiences will be a natural extension of land offerings at AMAALA. The Red Sea is one of the most unexplored bodies of water in the world. Its natural combination of abundant sea waters and year-round breezes offer the perfect environment for marine sports.
“This is one of the world’s last thriving marine habitats – with nearly 20% of the fish living in the Red Sea – such a vibrant ecosystem cannot be found anywhere else. The diving and submarine experiences will immerse guests in the crystalline domain of whales, turtles, and healthy coral reefs.”
In addition, AMAALA is also making strides to develop a vibrant society in the kingdom through a range of regional and international partnerships within the arts, sports, and entertainment sectors.
“We are in discussion with several luxury providers and brands, and we look forward to revealing select partners soon. We are also looking at establishing our own hotel and resort brands.
“We also have experts and consultants on board to help with our health and wellness programmes, including global polo star Ignacio (Nacho) Figueras, who will play an active role in shaping the world-class polo facilities at AMAALA.”
Figueras is joined on the board by sports industry veteran Simon Brooks-Ward, the chairman and chief executive of The HPower Group; Susan Harmsworth, the ESPA International founder; and Ingo Schweder, the founder and CEO of GOCO Hospitality.
A paradigm of “personalisation”
AMAALA will be serviced by its own dedicated airport, which will provide individually-crafted guest experiences from the moment visitors arrive at the destination.
The facility will initially serve private jet and charter flights, but will expand to receive commercial airlines, given its proximity to major tourist destinations within the region, and further afield.
“AMAALA will be a disruptor in its sector and will redefine the luxury resort experience, and the tourism experience in its entirety. It will set the standards for personalised service, with each guest crafting their own journey through the pillars that tie AMAALA together.”
Naples concludes: “Dubbed the heart of the Middle East, AMAALA takes inspiration from the arts, wellness, and the natural wonders of the Red Sea. It will be a key driver of economic growth and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030’s objectives, cultivating new investment opportunities, supporting economic growth with a focus on the development of new sectors, driving employment, and upskilling talent.”