High end projects forge ahead

Jeri Clausing

While the travel industry, like much of the world, is largely shuttered, two of tourism’s most ambitious luxury projects appear to be proceeding as planned.

Last week, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced that its VSS Unity spaceship completed its first flight from its new home at Spaceport America, putting it one step closer to hitting its newest target of launching space tourism in 2020.

Also last week, Saudi Arabia said it had begun marking locations for overwater developments in its Red Sea Project, which aims to transform one of the world’s last untouched marine wonderlands into an eco-friendly, ultraluxury destination with hotels and residences across 22 islands and six inland sites.

Both offered much-needed reminders that while travel is at an unprecedented standstill, it’s temporary, and there are still many exciting adventures on the horizon.

Red Sea Project CEO John Pagano said the marking of positions for villas and restaurants as well as two hyperluxury hotels and one luxury hotel on Sheybarah South and Ummahat Al Shaykh islands marked “another milestone reached for the project.” It is an undertaking perhaps unmatched in scope and ambition since Dubai set out to make itself a global tourism mecca more than two decades ago.

At Spaceport America, the announcement that Virgin Galactic’s spaceship had made its first glide flight over New Mexico since being relocated to its permanent home there earlier this year was not only a reminder that tourism will continue to grow and evolve but also an example of overcoming adversity.

The quarter-billion-dollar futuristic spaceport, which was built by New Mexico to house Virgin Galactic as well as other commercial space operations, sat largely empty for years as development of commercial space vehicles lagged ambitious early estimates.

Once predicted to start flying as early as 2007, Virgin Galactic was dealt a serious setback in 2014 after the company’s SpaceShip Two broke apart on a test flight over the Mojave Desert in 2014, killing one of its two pilots.
Now in the final stages of testing, Branson has said he hopes to launch space flights this year.

So, here’s to the future and hoping we might one day soon be looking back on the Covid-19 pandemic as history from a spaceship or a luxurious villa overlooking the Red Sea.

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