Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (TDA) in conversation with Robust RAK shares his vision of building Ras Al Khaimah as a world-class destination for business and leisure.
Q: Tell us more about the beauty and cultural heritage of Ras Al Khaimah?
Ras Al Khaimah is quickly becoming a destination of choice for both local and international visitors. With white sand beaches, desert dunes, rich cultural and historical sites and wildlife, Jebel Al Jais is the tallest mountain in UAE.
In actual fact Ras Al Khaimah is the richest emirate in terms of history and cultural heritage. Ras Al Khaimah has a history dating back to the Bronze Age which makes it one of the few places in the world that has been continuously settled for over 7,000 years. There are 18 historic fortifications, castles and towers still standing in Ras Al Khaimah.
Al Jazirah Al Hamra is a fishing village just outside of Ras Al Khaimah city which dates back 200 years. This is an area that we’re looking at restoring for a tourist site with the support of the Ras Al Khaimah government.
Al Wahhabiyyah is one of the oldest art forms of Ras Al Khaimah and is only performed in the emirate. The songs during this performance are divided into three sections. This folkdance is usually performed on special occasions, feast days and at wedding parties.
I would recommend that history enthusiasts visit the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah which has on display some traditional weapons that belong to the ruling family as well as archaeological displays showing the earliest settlers in the area. We see huge demand from travellers looking for the chance to get to the heart of a destination’s history so this is a huge opportunity and Ras Al Khaimah is fully able to deliver this experience.
Q: When we think of UAE, it’s all about Dubai, so how is this emirate focusing on tourism?
Located just 45-minutes from Dubai International Airport, Ras Al Khaimah offers a distinct sense of escapism from the fast-paced metropolitans of other emirates.
Ras Al Khaimah has a variety of hotel offerings, including international brand names, such as Waldorf Astoria, Banyan Tree, Rotana and Hilton. The diversity of our hotel portfolio is a major part of destination’s appeal, given it caters to a wide range of guest segments. Ras Al Khaimah has something to offer all travellers from families to adventure-seekers and those looking to get to the heart of our Arabian culture, history and heritage.
Q: With Dubai Expo 2020, do you think tourism in Ras Al Khaimah will grow? If yes, then how do you imagine Ras Al Khaimah by 2020?
The big campaign to host Expo 2020 was a UAE-wide effort and hosting Expo 2020 itself will be a huge opportunity not just for Dubai but for the wider UAE and in fact the region. Between October 2020 and April 2021, more than 25 million visitors are expected to attend Expo 2020, 70% of which will be from outside the UAE – the largest number of international visitors in Expo history. Given that we are just a 45-minute drive from Dubai International Airport of course we see a huge opportunity to capitalise and attract these visitors for onward trips to Ras Al Khaimah.
Expo 2020 will run from 20 October 2020 through to 10 April 2021 which coincides with the UAE’s Golden Jubilee – another opportunity for all of the emirates to come together and use this as a platform to engage a global audience and drive our vision, particularly along the themes of Expo 2020 – opportunity, mobility and sustainability.
What will Ras Al Khaimah look like by 2020? As the other emirates are also doing, we have plans in place which are in line with our growth strategy but also take into account the developments needed to serve the increasing numbers of visitors we expect between now and 2020 and beyond. These developments include not only hotels but infrastructure and attractions as well.
Q: Brief us on the highlights of tourism growth in Ras Al Khaimah for 2014-2015?
Ras Al Khaimah is providing new and exciting opportunities for tourism, investment and trade – we are enjoying impressive economic growth under the visionary guidance of His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah and the emirate is reaping the success of the government’s ambitious and incredibly successful process of economic diversification, in which tourism plays a key role.
We have made major progress in achieving our goal of attracting 850,000 visitors in 2015 and ultimately one million visitors by the end of 2018 – with 730,000 guests choosing Ras Al Khaimah for their business and leisure trips throughout 2014. Continuing with this pace, visitor numbers have witnessed an eight per cent increase in H1 2015, compared to the same period in 2014, according to STR – with domestic travellers constituting a major proportion of demand, followed by Germany, Russia, and the UK. We are optimistic this fast-paced momentum will continue throughout the remainder of the year and beyond.
Q: Why choose Ras Al Khaimah? Recount the USPs that can and will make Ras Al Khaimah a hub for tourism?
One of the main areas of development in Ras Al Khaimah is the flagship Al Marjan Island. The island already boasts five hotels, with plans to offer 20 hotels by 2025. The development of four islands dedicated to luxury, lifestyle and families, will cater to multiple audiences. Our aim is to build a man-made archipelago offering a wide variety of restaurants, shopping, entertainment, theme parks and numerous hotels.
With regards to hotels, our emirate currently boasts over 5,000 hotel rooms with plans to add a further 3,600 rooms by 2019, under leading hospitality brands such as Marriott, Accor, Crown Plaza and Anantara – ensuring we continue to offer a diverse range of accommodation options.
For example, the 225-room Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort, expected to open in 2018 will feature Maldivian-style water villas. The resort will be located in a secluded and picturesque area of Mina Al Arab with a private beach and overlooking an eco-reserve with mangroves. The area around the eco reserve will not be developed to keep it unspoiled and will be home to an Eco-Learning Centre. With its peaceful location, overwater villas and ‘eco’ theme, the resort will provide a unique offering in the UAE market.
With a major hotel development in the pipeline, in addition to ongoing discussions with a number of global airways, Ras Al Khaimah is rapidly growing into a prime destination for tourism, investment and trade.
Beyond our hotel offering, the destination truly offers something for everyone from adventure seekers who can visit Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE, which stands tall at 1,910 metres, and is ideal for both mountain climbing and mountain biking with impressive views from the summit!
Ras Al Khaimah is also renowned as a beach destination and offers 62km of white sandy beaches with clear blue water and water sports aplenty from banana boat rides and body boarding to wakeboarding and windsurfing.
Q: Is the emirate bringing in new investors for business? What are the advantages to choose Ras Al Khaimah as a base for business?
Building on the strengths and achievements of 2014, we are in an extremely strong position to attract further investment into the emirate due to its unique offering – natural attractions such as, rugged terrains, undisturbed beaches, archaeological sites, coastal areas and desert. Ras Al Khaimah’s close proximity to Dubai International Airport – the fifth busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic – is also a major asset.
Q: What is the mantra behind Ras Al Khaimah attracting tourism and business from all over the world? Which aspect would you attribute this success to? With tourism, what are the other core areas of focus to further develop the emirate?
As the emirate continues with its ambitious expansion plans to meet bold new growth targets we continue to diversify our rich offering through developing retail, dining, cruise, entertainment, and MICE facilities, to further build Ras Al Khaimah’s position as a world-class destination for business and leisure.
We have a healthy pipeline of hotels and are in ongoing conversations with a number of airlines to improve airlift to the destination. This combined with our work to further develop tourist attractions and sites of interest all contribute to Ras Al Khaimah maintaining its position as an attractive and competitive destination for both business and leisure travellers.