Sustainable Cities of the Future

NEOM will be more than a destination - people will live there. Their vision is to create a destination that is net-positive.

NEOM is the combination of two words - NEO (Greek for 'new') and MUSTAQBAL (Arabic word meaning 'future') - the 'New Future'.

NEOM is the combination of two words - NEO (Greek for 'new') and MUSTAQBAL (Arabic word meaning 'future') - the 'new future'. It will be more than a destination - people will live there.

The vision is a new future reimagining every single sector, from water to tourism. As a destination, they're the same size as Belgium. NEOM is planning a sustainable tourism academy that's going to contribute to the sustainable future of the destination.


'The Line' is one of the development regions - there's a zero-carbon emission commitment - and 95% of the territory will be protected.


What are the problems they're trying to solve?


"Forever altering the possibilities of travel' is NEOM's motto. This opportunity allows them to think big.

  1. Oversupply - is a major issue of the offer on the market today.
  2. Technology - today seems to hinder, rather than help the experience. It has made things complicated, so the goal of a seamless journey is deeply ingrained in the vision.
  3. Overtourism - is a major issue of tourism today, we need to measure, manage and work towards regenerative tourism as a new model for a low-impact visitor economy.

NEOM Vision


Their vision is to create a destination that is net-positive. One that improves the wellbeing of everyone at all levels, residents, visitors, the environment and future generations.


They are mandated to build a sustainable revenue stream as a future-ready economy. Top leadership buy-in is central to this mission but it's not the only driving force. They also recognise that travellers care about things that matter, their food, their experience but also their impact - where the destination is made better by their visit.


There's a fundamental belief in building something from the bottom-up that the old system of measurement and performance just doesn't work. They have uncovered hundreds of accreditations that are not authentic, many being deeply detailed and committed.


At NEOM, they don't believe that there is a one size fits all approach that can work for the uniqueness of every single destination. Here are where their priorities sit:

  1. Localised definition - for example, water management in Saudi Arabia will mean something different to say Ireland.
  2. Product development - will have different meanings depending on the heritage and level of development - culture and context of each destination.
  3. Empowering tourists - visitors should be given the ability to create impact and ensure that their actions make a concrete difference.
  4. Measurement - results aren't always rooted in growth and measurement, there are other positive impacts that can be measured if we're ready to reconsider the model.


So what are some of the key issues identified today? Impact measurement is today focused heavily on certification and the sea of certification models simply makes things very incomparable, confusing and somehow missing the ability to trust and understand impact properly.


The one missing part of the picture when we consider everything we see today is the traveller. Nobody considers the traveller when we calculate impact. This is part of the vision to build a more sustainable tourism ecosystem, with implications for product development and making the tourism ecosystem altogether more sustainable.


Activities such as snorkelling, camping, spas and hotels should all provide data points which lead us to understand and demonstrate how they build positive impact. The traveller's journey should be incorporated into every action and how they can be a key factor in driving impact.


This starts with travellers understanding how their booking makes an impact. At NEON, this idea starts by booking activities through the NEOM app, which shows a range of impact categories which are classed as 'positive' or 'negative' on different elements such as carbon, communities and so on. A system of icons helps visitors understand the level of impact across different category areas so they have the knowledge to make an informed choice.


Ensuring this is a user-friendly experience they remove jargon and complex scientific detail and simplify the information needed to understand their impact. They provide so-called 'tickets' at the end of each experience, telling them how their visit contributed to a bigger goal 'e.g. reducing carbon impact' or 'rewinding nature'. Inside each 'receipt' the user can then get a clear and concise breakdown of how they arrived at this calculation - ensuring travellers can be empowered to be part of the solution.

Key Takeaways

  • Impact measurement is focused heavily on certification and the sea of certification models simply makes things very incomparable, confusing and somehow missing the ability to trust and understand impact properly.

  • The traveller's journey should be incorporated into every action of the monitoring process and how they can be a key factor in driving impact.

  • Travellers should understand how their booking makes an impact.
Published on:
December 2022
About the contributor

Natasha Martin

NEOM