Richard Branson will invest in a Red Sea project that aims to turn 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourism destinations, the Saudi government announced on Sunday.
Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project, Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said, in what officials called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism”.
Branson also visited the tombs at Madain Saleh – an UNESCO World Heritage site located near a string of new hotels – in a trip to the Gulf kingdom that appears to be aimed at attracting further international attention, both investment and tourism.
“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there’s nothing like getting a firsthand impression,” Branson said in a statement released by the information ministry.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries in the world, only last week passing a decree allowing women to drive.
But since the shock appointment of powerful Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s throne in June, the oil-rich state has launched a media offensive aimed at promoting the country’s image.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment into the Red Sea project, with construction slated to start in 2019.
The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs, according to the Saudi government.