Ras al Khaimah, a rising emirate in the north of the UAE, is making a serious push to lure more tourists. The emirate is investing $250 million on tourism infrastructure, including hotels and resorts and hopes to add 10,000 hotel rooms by 2016. Last year, 835,200 tourists visited the emirate, revenues from the sector grew by Dh400 million ($108 million) as RAK is welcoming the world. ”A major attraction for both investment and visiting Ras Al Khaimah is its affordability,” said Victor Louis, chief operating officer of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Investment Development Authority, said during an interview. RAK has for long been in the shadow of bigger emirates like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Below are some excerpts from the interview:
How do you plan on changing that perception?
Ras Al Khaimah with its own unique identity and diversity of landscapes offers visitors idyllic leisure, adventure and affordable luxury experiences. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are wonderful destinations and well known and established in the minds of travelers around the world. We do not see Ras Al Khaimah as a competitor to other emirates, rather a perfect complement for an enhanced UAE experience. We will naturally be promoting Ras Al Khaimah and its tourism merits as both a standalone destination and as an enjoyable and essential addition to any multi-emirate travel itinerary.
What countries are you targeting for your tourism push? Last year, charter flights from Germany, Austria and Sweden brought in 55,000 visitors to the emirate. Is the focus solely on Europe, or are you diversifying in your approach?
Europe is a major target market for us as our affordable luxury experiences and unique attractions prove extremely popular among European travellers especially those seeking cultural, outdoor adventure and luxury beach resort destinations. In this, regard the general interests of European travellers and the unique attractions of Ras Al Khaimah prove a natural symbiotic fit.
Additionally, Europe is a large market – while we have initiated our activities with a strong promotional approach in Germany, Austria and Sweden, we have also attended major tourism industry exhibitions in the UK and Russia, as well as workshops in the Ukraine. Given that the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority will only reach its first anniversary in May 2012, we are proud of the achievements and in road shows that we have so far made into Europe, but it is just the beginning and there so much more work to be done. Naturally we are always looking at potential new market to approach and this process is ongoing.
How seriously do you view the Asian market to attract more visitors with Europe and the West are in the middle of an economic slump where spending has decreased?
Asian markets are naturally of great interest to us and we believe Ras Al Khaimah has a lot to offer visitors from these regions. RAK Airways’ expanding flight network into Asia also provides convenient and direct links to Ras Al Khaimah, so we expect visitors from these regions to increase considerably.
The economic situation in pockets of Europe however has not necessarily proven a challenge for Ras Al Khaimah, in fact it has provided us with many opportunities. Europeans have decided to continue travelling. As before they are looking for exotic destinations, and as before they are seeking luxury experiences.
How closely are you working with RAK Airways, other airlines to bring in more tourists? What are the deals on offer?
RAK Airways is a strong and natural partner for us as we share a common goal of seeing an increased and constant flow of visitors from overseas. With their direct flight access this provides many excellent opportunities for us to work together to develop these markets and promote the tourism attractions of Ras Al Khaimah. With Dubai International Airport only a short 45 minute drive to Ras Al Khaimah this naturally means that all airlines flying to that airport are also a potential partner to promote Ras Al Khaimah. We are approaching various airlines serving key target markets for us to work together for the further promotion of destination Ras Al Khaimah for their mutual benefit.
Additionally, the distance from Sharjah International Airport to Ras Al Khaimah is even closer, and this has provided us further opportunities to partner with Air Arabia and the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, where we were able to jointly host a group of Russian media earlier this year.
In addition to working with airlines, we have also been working closely with major European tour operators to establish direct charter flights to Ras Al Khaimah. The charter flights have proven extremely successful and together are expected to bring an additional 60,000 visitors to the emirate. The success of the charter flights will result in us seeking further such partnerships to development expand these initiatives.
On infrastructure, how many hotels are lined up this year?
With regards to hotels and resorts, in March 2012 the 156 rooms and suites of the Mangrove Hotel opened its doors for the first time. Additionally in the last quarter of 2012 the 627 room and suite Rixos Bab Al Bahr will open offering the first ‘all inclusive’ property of this magnitude in the UAE.
Following that, the Waldorf Astoria property will open in the first quarter of 2013, marking the entry of the luxury brand of Hilton Worldwide in the UAE, with 349 rooms and extensive dining outlets as well as leisure and recreational facilities. A little further down the track and destined to become a haven of luxurious living, Al Marjan Island will opened to the public in 2014 and will offer plush waterfront homes, floating villas, four and five-star hotels, resorts, sporting facilities and commercial areas.
Additionally, by October 2012, Ras Al Khaimah will offer to its visitors the ultimate desert experience with one of the largest excursion companies in the region ‘Sun and Fun’, which was established in Egypt.
What are your investments in improving tourism projects?
The government of Ras Al Khaimah is investing worth $250 million until end of 2013 in tourism development infrastructure and projects including hotels and resorts to reach the total inventory of 10,000 hotel rooms by the year 2016.
How has the tourism sector in RAK performed year on year?
The total number of visitors to the emirate in 2011 was recorded at 835,200 visitors, exceeding the target of 800,000 and generating a revenue boost at almost Dh400 million ($108 million).
The 2011 visitors to Ras Al Khaimah came from various source markets including Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
With regards to hotel occupancy, overall, Ras Al Khaimah hotels, including the Beach Resorts and City Hotels performed very well in 2011, showing impressive growth in all key areas with 8.62 per cent for the Beach Resorts and 1.92 per cent for City Hotels. Revenue per Available Room (RevPar) improved by 24.50 per cent for the Beach Resorts and 10.24 per cent for the City Hotels, resulting in total hotel revenue increasing to almost Dh400 million ($108 million), which translates as an increase of 37.61 per cent compared to 2010 figures.
Are you coordinating with other emirates like Abu Dhabi and Dubai to send more tourists to RAK?
Over 200,000 visitors to Ras Al Khaimah were from other emirates demonstrating the importance and strength of the domestic market. It is an important initiative of Ras Al Khaimah TDA to strongly promote the destination within these markets highlighting the emirate’s attractiveness especially as a luxury getaway retreat and outdoor adventure destination especially for families and couples.
Internationally we are keen to position ourselves as an attractive and essential addition to any UAE holiday and therefore naturally work closely with the tourism authorities of the other emirates. A recent media trip from Russia with the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority is one such example.
By: Allan Jacob
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