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Peter Fitzhardinge on the tourism of tomorrow

‘I see NEOM as wonderful alchemy, taking a raw and ancient land and melding it with ideas that will shape the future.’ - Peter Fitzhardinge

By now, you might have heard of NEOM. A land of 26,500 square km in north-western Saudi Arabia where the future is being envisioned and built. The Line, a cognitive, vertical city 170km long with no roads and powered by renewable energy. NEOM will cater to the luxury traveller with the recently announced development Trojena, bringing an alpine adventure wonderland to the mountains of Saudi Arabia complete with skiing and sailing.

It also offers an opportunity to Saudi Arabia – a country opening up to the globe’s travellers – to develop as a tourist destination. As Peter Fitzhardinge, NEOM Tourism’s Head of Marketing attests, the region is replete with natural wonders, coral reefs, pristine coastlines and soon to come, skiable mountains. Combine that with cutting-edge technology and you have the destination of the future – and certainly the tourism of tomorrow.

QX’s CXO wanted to know more, so Andrew sat down with Peter to discuss the desirability of the unknown, the beauty of NEOM, and the impact of technology on the guest experience.

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How will NEOM define the tourism of tomorrow?

NEOM is a place, but it is also an idea. Our destination strategy builds on the beauty of NEOM’s natural environment with concepts and visions that will make it a unique land sought after by travellers. One of NEOM’s major pillars is sustainability. Right now, everyone is looking to ecotourism with its philosophy of ‘leave no trace.’ We are pushing it further to create the world’s first net-positive destination with a mantra of ‘leave it better.’ We already have the building blocks in place for dynamic itineraries that will see travellers able to make choices that will positively affect NEOM. This can occur in three ways: liveability, for both them and those who live here; regenerating nature; and creating an economic impact to positively affect local communities. We will work with individual operators to be part of this approach, so they, too, are contributing to the concept of regenerative tourism.

Whom do you see as the NEOM core audience and how are you developing NEOM to answer its needs?

I see NEOM as a gift to the world, and I have no doubt it will have wide global appeal. All our studies confirm this. Of course, we are targeting the high-value traveller, but everyone will be able to experience NEOM in ways that suit them personally. NEOM will be for those who seek out the unexplored and the unseen in ways that support our sustainability ethos. It’s more about attracting a certain mindset than a particular demographic, but ultimately, NEOM will be a place for those who seek to go beyond their usual boundaries. It’s for those of us who are explorers at heart.

NEOM is filled with incredible technology. How will this positively impact the luxury guest experience?

Our goal is to create a seamless visitor experience. Of course, we aim to anticipate our visitors’ every need, but we will also surprise and delight them with offerings that will provide them with rewarding challenges. We are also keen to ensure that all our visitors’ time is spent enjoying and exploring NEOM. Through advanced technology, we will remove the pain points that can consume so much of a holiday’s time. As a result, visitors will be able to travel through NEOM with minimal fuss.

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Aside from headline-grabbing technology, what else makes NEOM a desirable tourist destination?

NEOM is being built on one of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes on earth. Many people mistakenly think of Saudi Arabia as being just one big dune. NEOM is anything but. Within this 26,500-square-kilometre region, you will find a variety of topographies, landscapes and climates – from the jaw-dropping red deserts dotted with sandstone mountains to the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. NEOM’s mountain peaks receive annual snowfalls, our vast savannahs support a rich diversity of wildlife, and our 450 kilometres of untouched coastline (with turquoise waters and vibrant corals) teem with sea life. Added to all this, we have 41 islands, some of which will be developed in the coming years. I struggle to name any other destination in the region that boasts all these incredible qualities. I see NEOM as wonderful alchemy, taking raw and ancient land and melding it with ideas that will shape the future.

QX conducted research into the habits of U/HNW travellers to support the development and positioning of NEOM. How have these insights been used to shape the destination’s positioning?

The QX research study has been incredibly valuable and has found its way into many of the developments and our overall tourism thinking. One of the key insights was around the desirability of the uncharted. This plays into NEOM’s truth of being a destination that few know about and even fewer have travelled to. The UHNW and HNW have always looked beyond their own horizons, in both life and business; they seek the ‘new’ and want to continuously find out about undiscovered places and opportunities. This gives NEOM an incredible allure and we will be using it to full effect.

What challenges has NEOM identified with current luxury tourism, and how does it intend to overcome them?

Unfortunately, travel has become commoditized, and this is certainly the case in the luxury segment. You can experience everything, everywhere now. Travel was once about the excitement of the unexpected, reward through risk, and being a little unprepared and leaving things to chance. NEOM’s uncharted nature will allow us to reignite this feeling to help travellers explore something that is totally new and beyond their expectations. Already, we have an unadulterated natural landscape that few have seen. Upon this, we will build experiences that twist the conventional, deliver the unanticipated, and leave visitors yearning for more. If it feels familiar, it’s not NEOM.

NEOM has developed its own metaverse, XVRS, which allows visitors to have both a digital and physical presence in the city. How do you see the metaverse being incorporated into the tourism of tomorrow?

The value of the metaverse is that it will help bring the curious to NEOM well before we are fully open. It’s certainly interesting as a concept, but personally, I believe that it will never be better than the real thing. Through virtual experiences housed in the NEOM metaverse, guests can ski desert mountains, swim with dugongs and whale sharks, watch long-lost animals return to the savannahs, and walk THE LINE – but wait till they get here and see it for real.

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Which part of the project do you think is the most ground-breaking?

There are almost too many amazing projects here. Each development has a twist I love, whether it’s skiing in the Saudi desert mountains or swimming in corals no human eye has seen. There is one project I’m involved with that involves our nature region. Here, the team is working on a rewilding program to bring back the big cats along with other long-departed wildlife to the Arabian Peninsula. It’s audacious, ambitious and wonderfully heart-warming. To be part of a project such as this that will captivate the world is incredibly rewarding. Just another gift from NEOM.

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