The concept of a resort art reef can be a puzzling one. Nonetheless, the potential benefits of developing one possibly extend beyond the inevitable tourism draw.
Los Angeles-based Reef Worlds, which is currently working on a one-of-a-kind theme park marine sanctuary in Dubai, was essentially founded on the benefits this type of investment can have on nature and conservation efforts.
"My team and I were lamenting that at every hotel resort we went to in the Mediterranean and Mexico, the near-shore reef system was just gone, like a nuke went off," says Reef Worlds founder Patric Douglas. "So the question became, what can we do to rehabilitate that, and what's the tourism angle?"
"All of these resorts are 200 feet from the ocean, but have nothing to do with the ocean."
The allure of diving is effectively the tourism angle when it comes to an underwater resort. With coral reefs vanishing quickly, tourists can't travel to just any coast or island to see them anymore, thus making them a key asset for competing hotels and resorts.
That's where companies like Reef Worlds come into play. They are constructing artificial reefs that not only to attract more tourists, but serve as a makeshift habitat for rare and popular underwater species.
So the potential benefits of development extend beyond simply generating tourism dollars.
Douglas points out that since the people and the communities in and around many hotels and resorts rely on tourism to survive, they are more inclined to protect the surrounding environment that's helping to bring in those guests.
Once given the opportunity to experience nature up close at an underwater resort, guests are then more likely to value the often overlooked ecosystems.
"Once people have a more authentic experience, and engage with a reef on a fundamental level, it changes their whole focus and attitude," Douglas told Smithsonian.com.
Although underwater lobbies and guestrooms haven't yet become commonplace, in order to make underwater hotel concepts a worthwhile venture, there must first be a reason why guests would want to go underwater.
As Douglas told Smithsonian.com, "to save a thing, you have to put money into it, and the best way to do that is charge people to go see it." With the economic value of coral reefs in the U.S. and its territories exceeding $200 million annually, according to a 2013 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there's a clear demand for underwater attractions.
Capitalizing on that demand could benefit not only well-positioned hotels and resorts, but ecosystems and the local communities and economies that often rely on them.