Northern emirate plans to attract 2.5 million visitors by 2012

Ras Al Khaimah aims to strengthen its position as a tourism destination. Shalu Chandran spoke to Dr Khater Massaad, the advisor to HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, RAK Tourism Authority and chief executive, Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA)
RAK has seen tourism success in 2007: from authentic local environment to sailing

What’s in store for 2008?
The year ahead for Ras Al Khaimah will include a bigger and better presence at all the major international tradeshows particularly ITB, ATM and WTM.

We will also strengthen our communications and public relations activities in each of these markets to continue to grow the awareness of Ras Al Khaimah as a leisure destination.  All of these activities will have in mind the new properties that are due to come on to the market from early 2009 and onwards.

What is RAK’s tourism strategy?
Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism industry has seen steady growth over the past couple of years, and RAK Tourism is working to put the emirate in the forefront of international tourism success stories.
As a destination, Ras Al Khaimah now receives close to half a million visitors. The projected growth in 2012 is 2.5 million which will generate significant foreign exchange earnings for the economy from this important business sector.
Typically, tourism success is not easily won; it results from a combination of careful macroeconomic management, judicious investment of government and private monies, and a results oriented partnership of public and private interests in developing and marketing our product.
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism with the help of RAK Investment Authority, the Department of Antiquities and Museums and the Department of Environmental Protection and Development Authority is playing a key role in delivering a quality and authentic tourism product which will characterise our destination for the future.

With the launch of RAK Airways, what are your tourist arrival targets for 2008?
Conservatively, 2008 tourist arrivals from RAK Airways are projected to be close to 60,000 passengers on current flight capacity.  It is worth noting that RAK Airways are looking to increase their fleet by approximately two more aircraft by the end of 2008.  In addition, one must also consider the seasonal charters from Austria, Germany and Russia to Ras Al Khaimah for a true picture of passenger arrivals in the year ahead.

Who are your major source markets?
Germany and German speaking countries, France, Italy, Switzerland and Nordic countries, while the UK and CIS countries markets are growing in size.

What are the current hotel occupancy rates in the emirate?
In 2007 our hotels enjoyed an average occupancy level of 93 per cent, an exceptional year for Ras Al Khaimah.

What is the level of investment put into the emirate? How will all this investment impact tourism?
There is significant local and foreign investment in Ras Al Khaimah and the emirate continues to attract huge interest from overseas investors, particularly in the tourism sector. For example, Al Marjan Island is the first man made island in Ras Al Khaimah and it is a $1.8 billion project.  It was completely sold to investors soon after its launch. 
Al Hamra Village, the largest leisure resort of its kind in the UAE with five million sq m, the 18 hole championship golf course is complete and has a growing membership base, while the marina with 200 berths is open now and Al Hamra Palace is expected to be complete by early 2009.
RAK Convention Centre is a $400 billion project which will be developed by the government. The Mina Al Arab, is a resort style multi use community with approximately nine internationally branded hotels, a nature reserve with visitor centre, eco hotels and extensive water ways, worth $2.3 billion.
All of these projects will help to position Ras Al Khaimah as a unique and authentic destination with a strong and diverse leisure tourism offering.

How are you marketing your new projects?
We place strong emphasis on the power of public relations. We do concentrate on our key markets such as Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries, where we develop ‘out of the box’ tailored marketing activities that are suitable for these markets.  

How closely are you working with travel agents and tour operators worldwide? What are you offering them?
We value our close relationship with the travel trade. We listen to them when it comes to advice on consumer market needs and we are working hard to ensure that we provide the support they need because we believe it’s a partnership for each of us. 
In real terms, we support them by being present at trade shows to promote our destination, by developing marketing material in local languages and by executing extensive PR campaigns in our target markets.

What is your biggest USP of RAK, as against the other emirates?
We have excellent beach resorts; a local environment such as Al Hajjar Mountains, the coastline and beaches and the un-spoilt desert landscape; and authentic local events and activities such as Awafi, camel racing and our many cultural and heritage sites.

Do you feel that there is a need for a UAE tourist authority – that unites the needs of the seven emirates?
DTCM and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority have always offered an open door policy when it comes to supporting the other emirates to grow tourism.