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SAUDI ARABIA - Tourism

Oliver Rees

GM, Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina

Bio

Oliver Rees has spent the past decade at the center of the marine and yachting industries in the Middle East. He has worked with various high-end marinas in Dubai, bringing them together as an industry to help promote boating and improve end-user experience. In 2017 he took on the task of creating the Bvlgari Yacht Club & Marina, a new player in luxury yachting and service, welcoming superyachts from all around the world with its exclusive attractions. And Since January 2022 he has moved over to Jeddah to assist in creating Saudi Arabia’s first Yacht Club & Marina. With its geographical location perfect for international yachts, and its untouched coastline, it provides all the ingredients needed for a fantastic yachting destination.

"In 2023, our focus has been on launching Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina, to finish opening the Academy and the yacht club at large."
TBY talks to Oliver Rees, GM of Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina, about the club’s achievements, eco-friendly practices, and goals for the year ahead.
Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina is Saudi Arabia’s first west coast marina. Can you shed some light on recent achievements?

I officially joined Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina back in January 2022, and since then, we’ve endeavored to make sure the club is at a world-class standard. JYCM is the first 5-star yacht club in Saudi Arabia, but our vision extends beyond luxury yachts; we aim to offer an exclusive experience that caters to all of our community. Our members enjoy privileged access to all the yacht club’s venues, whether it’s our newly opened JYC Academy, the Marina Social restaurant from Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton, or our state-of-the-art Wellness Center. We have a cigar lounge for the aficionados to try our selection of vintage cigars, and the infinity pool at our private beach club is the ideal spot to look over the Red Sea. We’re proud to have partnered recently with Riva to launch our Riva Privée lounge, which is located on the rooftop of our yacht club building. Riva is an iconic Italian brand known for building some of the most beautiful boats in the world, with venues in just a few exclusive locales such as Monaco Yacht Club and Porto Cervo, so we are very excited to now have the thirteenth Riva lounge here in Saudi Arabia. We also have a state-of-the-art fitness spa, as well as a full event schedule for our members. What we are trying to do is create a community so people can socialize and network with like minded JYC members.

Can you tell us about the Jeddah Yacht Club Academy and the programs offered for those who wish to develop sailing skills?

JYC Academy is situated in its own building at the end of the marina, and is the largest RYA-accredited training center in Saudi Arabia. Led by an expert team of international sailing coaches, we provide a variety of sailing courses for different skill levels, including dinghy sailing, keelboat, wingfoiling, and powerboating. From after-school sailing and half-term sailing camps, to adult keelboat courses and racing events, we offer something for everyone. Our mission, in partnership with the Saudi Sailing Federation, is to train up the next generation of sailors in Saudi Arabia, so we’re particularly focused on getting more kids out on the water. Ultimately we want to find the next Olympic talent to represent the Kingdom internationally. That will involve getting more eyes on the sport of sailing, so we’re working alongside the Federation to host national regattas, as well as bringing large international events to the country, such as the America’s Cup, which JYC will be hosting later this year. The Second Preliminary Regatta of the 37th Cup will take place here in late November, and we hope the spectacle of racing inspires more Saudis to give sailing and other watersports a go. Plus, we’re launching an internship program, where Saudis will have the opportunity to join an eight-week training camp to acquire invaluable experience in sailing and marina skills. From there, we’ll offer them a placement within our organization, and then pursue a career in the maritime industry. There’s certainly a gap in the market there. Our overarching aim with the Academy is to future-proof our operations, to unlock a new wave of sailors in the country and create future jobs for Saudi Nationals.

The club aims to create a community around the concept of the sea. How are you getting the word out to the local market?

One of our main goals at Jeddah Yacht Club is to foster a community centered around sailing and water activities, and so our members have full access to the Academy’s services. This includes courses with our team of top coaches, across a whole range of watersports, as well as our fleet of training boats ready to take members out on the water. What’s more, for sailors with a competitive streak, we’ve got an exclusive race series which is set to launch just after the America’s Cup event in late November. Races will be held every two to three weeks, with the Academy hosting post-race events to provide racers with the opportunity to socialize and forge meaningful connections with like-minded members. But we also understand that not all JYC members are interested in the yachting lifestyle. For those who simply want to take in the stunning waterfront views, they can network and socialize in the cigar lounge, dine in one of our upscale restaurants, and enjoy a whole host of other luxury offerings at the club.

What are some of the eco-friendly practices or initiatives that Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina has implemented?

Being green in Saudi Arabia is a challenge when you are building something so fast. However, we are making big steps in the right direction. We’ve installed solar panels on the roof of the Academy which power all of the building, which is exciting. With sensors in every room, lights automatically turn on and off, and we’ve installed a water recycling system for the entire Academy so we significantly reduce the water that is wasted. For the marina, we’ve invested in an autonomous robot – essentially an on-the-water drone – that drives around the water and collects garbage and microplastics as it goes. We also have a pump that removes all the black water waste directly from the boats in the marina to ensure no waste goes into the water. We’ve established a relationship with Monaco Yacht Club, and to maintain that partnership there are certain sustainability initiatives that we follow. Part of that is to follow an audit with guidelines and best practices. It’s not the finished article and we have a long way to go, but we are making a lot of progress towards full sustainability. The great thing about the Saudi Arabian coastline is that it is relatively untouched. Protecting it relies on education – about limiting fuel consumption, the correct kind of products to use onboard the yachts, and the best practices to keep the local environment clean. All that means holding regular meetings with captains, owners, and as part of the community with the Yacht Club and the Academy.

What are the main targets in your yearly agenda?

In 2023, our focus has been on launching Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina, to finish opening the Academy and the yacht club at large. It’ll all be completed before the America’s Cup in November, at which point we’ll be fully operational. And then either at the end of this year, or alongside the Formula One in March next year, we’ll have our grand opening party. Beyond that, our target is to start populating the marina. At the moment, our fuel price is incredibly high, at around USD1.24. If you can get your fuel price down to 50, 60, or 70 cents a liter, we’ll start seeing more superyachts begin to divert here. So as far as the fuel price is concerned, we are talking with the relevant ministries and working to promote incentives and discounted rates. A yacht pumps a lot of money into the local economy wherever it anchors. These boats need fuel, maintenance, food, and provisions. When a yacht comes in for more than a week, it can put USD1 million into the local economy, because these yachts just need so many resources. It’s a huge benefit for the country if we incentivize these yachts to stop here, so our mission in 2024 will be to substantially increase boat traffic to JYCM.

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