Putting RAK on the map

International tourists are flocking to the newest Middle Eastern destination.

ONCE you’ve made it to a Bollywood movie, you can rest assured the tourists will come in – and Ras Al Khaimah is only the newest Middle Eastern destination to have been captured on film, in Mukesh Bhatt’s Woh Lamhe and in 36 China Town.

Slowly but surely, then, the international tourist trade has become aware of another new destination in the emirates: Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), which, some would say, provides a more authentic experience than its shinier sister emirates.
Already, the money is pouring in: 2005-06 saw investments of $800 million to $1billion into RAK, including tourism investments, Dr Khater Massaad, Advisor to RAK Crown Prince and CEO of RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA), told TTN. “We want to make RAK a year round international tourist destination.”
To that end, he says, RAK Tourism will be promoted as an independent body. “We have a direct marketing plan in place and will be contacting companies directly. Of course we plan to join Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the UAE stands at various international trade shows like WTM and ITB and make our presence felt in these markets. We are also working closely with many travel agents and tour operators across the country to promote RAK as the new tourist getaway,” he said.
Some 25 new hotels are set to open over the next few years, with the first of the properties, set to open in the next two months, said Massaad. “The Al Hamra and the Hilton are currently at 100 per cent occupancy and we hope that with more number of rooms available, we can promote more tourists to the emirate. The Al Hamra Palace Hotel is expected to open in March 2008, The Bah Al Bahr by 2009, The RAK Airport Hotel will also start operations in 2009.”
Expansion plans are also underway at the RAK Airport, he says. “The airport will be upgraded to international standards. This will cost close to $50million. A master plan and design is being studied and plans will be finalised to start work by 2009.”
Among the airlines flying to the emirate will be RAK Airways, which is expected to commence operations by the end of April 2007, Massaad said. “RAK Airways plan to develop itself as a point-to-point airline. The airline has already purchased a Boeing 757 and we are looking forward to this since it is expected to open doors for RAK and put the emirate in contact with the outside world,” he told TTN.  The next step, he said, is to start operating charter flights out of RAK.
Typically, he says, prime source markets are Europe and India, both of which are already strong feeder markets for the region.
The offering for tourists, then, is a mix of old and new, he pointed out. “With beautiful beaches, mountains, canyons, deserts and historical sites, it has something for everyone. Mountain trekking is very popular here. The new Jebel Jais Mountain Resort will be a unique experience for tourists, since it is one of a kind resort not available anywhere in the UAE.”
More investment is also being rounded up. A MEED conference, being hosted in association with the Investment & Development Office of RAK government, brings together over 30 international investors and business leaders to discuss the wealth of opportunities that are available in this fast emerging emirate this month, on February 12 and 13. Over two days, leading stakeholders in the emirate’s development will discuss the numerous geographical, logistical and economic advantages of investing in this rapidly developing and fast emerging market, focusing in particular on the real estate, tourism, energy and manufacturing sectors.
What will truly put the emirate on the map, however, is the proposed spaceport, being developed by American company Space Adventures at a cost of $265 million. The firm will operate suborbital flights from the emirate with a Russian-built suborbital vehicle called Explorer, that will have the capacity to transport up to five people to an altitude of nearly 100 km in space. A detailed project schedule is yet to be announced.
As the next of the emirates to be raising its profile, RAK has benefited from the experiences of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Massaad said. “The success of Dubai and Abu Dhabi has benefited us and reflected positively on us, being the same country. Our close proximity to both these emirates, and their success stories have brought in investors to RAK. Everything the emirate has achieved till date was with their help and support and we hope they will help us in the future too.”
As for attracting the movies, the RAK government has roped in a slew of Hollywood names to set up a $1 billion film city, billed to be the largest film and post production centre in the region. The Mirage Studio complex, to be set up by Mirage Holdings FZCO, is to be built on a 480 acre site off the Emirates Highway in RAK. In addition to a state-of-the-art production studio, it will have business, residential, shopping, sport and entertainment components.