Overshadowed by Dubai’s gravity-defying buildings, can-do attitude and range of tourist attractions, the northern emirates have been looking to develop a reputation of their own both regionally and beyond.
Nowhere is this clearer than with the tourism industry. Emulation of Dubai’s success rather than character has been the objective, with each looking to build on their individual identities.
Of late, particular attention has focused on Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) and its efforts to grab a greater share of the limelight. Though long regarded as something of a laggard, RAK is moving boldly forward to pull in more tourists and is pushing ahead with plans to develop its airport and road networks. RAK’s catchy slogan – top of the Emirates – is not only a reference to its geographical position but also ambition. As a result of its three year development programme, construction costs for the development of coastal resorts amount to an estimated $4.5 billion.
With 116,000 hotel occupants in 2004, RAK hopes to net two million visitors by 2010 following the erection of 20-25 new hotels. Such entertainment facilities as the $232m WOW RAK entertainment centre, coupled with efforts to capitalise on its natural assets – quality coastline, mangrove forests, desert environment, the Hajjar Mountains, Bedouin culture and 7000-year old archaeological history – will draw the attention of would-be visitors.
Importantly, the delayed though much heralded start to RAK Airways flights this May represents an essential leap forward in realising RAK’s aspirations.
Fujairah is also benefiting from a number of infrastructure projects, with increased hotel capacity and airport expansion high on the list. The launch of the Fujairah Paradise project in 2006 for Dh2bn, comprised of 1,000 villas and a 250-room hotel, is touted as an essential initiative to attract visitors.
Set to open this year alone are the Fujairah Rotana Beach Resort & Spa and the Hotel Jal Fujairah Resort & Spa. Other properties already announced include the Radisson SAS Al Aqah Beach Resort, set for a 2009 opening.
Despite its small size, Ajman is also looking to place itself on the world tourist map. The Ajman Investment and Development Authority (AIDA) is the incarnation of local efforts and aims to capitalise on Ajman’s reputation as a tranquil getaway in the region. The announcement by Saudi Arabia’s Tanmiyat Investment Group to construct Ajman’s largest commercial, residential and tourism project in the form of the Ajman Marina, has also turned heads in the UAE. Work on a new Moevenpick Hotel along the corniche is continuing apace, with further hotel projects under discussion for the Al Zawra area. Other new projects with hospitality components are the Dh15-billion Emirates City and the Dh2.7-billion Ajman One. The emirate has some of the best beaches close to Dubai, and these are the focus of its tourism drive.
The element that unites the Northern Emirates is the fact that they are not Dubai or Abu Dhabi, allowing nationals from the two largest hubs to retreat from the hustle and bustle of their weekly routines. Yet, achieving a sizeable spike in visitors from the UAE, the rest of the GCC and beyond will require sustained investment momentum.
(Jason J Nash is head of research at the Oxford Business Group)
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