The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has been quick to move the emirate out from the shadow of Dubai, emphasising a more natural, sustainable form of tourism.
Here Breaking Travel News talks with chief executive Haitham Mattar about his achievements to date and what the future might hold.
Breaking Travel News: Ras Al Khaimah has dramatically increased visitor numbers in the last two years – how has this been achieved?
Haitham Mattar: Thanks to on-going development of new tourism attractions and projects, Ras Al Khaimah has cemented its status as one of the world’s up and coming tourism destinations.
Our emirate is now recognised as the most rapidly developing tourism sector in the UAE.
What we’ve done differently is engage the local community in order to extract our brand essence and values.
This insight has allowed us to reveal the Arabian culture, heritage and authenticity that Ras Al Khaimah has to offer.
Ultimately, it has led to the launch of our three-year tourism strategy, Destination 2019, which was also based on extensive consumer research in our international source markets.
In developing a portfolio of unique experiences that exemplify our brand, we have been able to showcase our unique heritage, rich history, spectacular landscapes and adventure activities in the most compelling and differentiated way.
This helps us appeal to various audiences, both domestically and abroad.
Additionally, we have promoted these unique experiences via co-marketing agreements with well-known media and tour operators as part of our winter and summer campaigns.
All of our development projects, such as our new Via Ferrata (Iron Path) have been supported by on-going PR and marketing activity.
As a result, we’ve secured impressive coverage for the destination.
Full-time presence in our core target markets has allowed us to secure a strong future position for the tourism industry in Ras Al Khaimah.
Over the last two years, we have secured strategic partnerships with airlines and tour operators, including Thomas Cook, TUI, Ctrip, Cox & Kings, FTI, Emirates, flydubai, Air Arabia, Qatar Airways and Air India Express.
In 2016, we reported an 11 per cent year-on-year growth of visitors to the emirate.
Some 60 per cent of the total visitors were from overseas source markets, and the amount of international arrivals to Ras al Khaimah increased by 19 per cent year-on-year.
Furthermore, hotels recorded a ten per cent increase in occupancy throughout 2016, reporting an average of 71 per cent from January to December.
Similar growth was posted across all key performance indicators, with RevPAR increasing by 5.5 per cent year-on-year 2015 and Room Revenue growing by ten per cent.
Going forward, we expect to exceed projected growth forecasts for the region, which the UNWTO estimates will be 4.4 per cent a year to 2030.
BTN: We are here at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai for the 2017 show. How important is inter-emirate travel for Ras Al Khaimah?
HM: Ras Al Khaimah is located just a 45-minute drive north of Dubai International Airport, so inter-emirate travel is extremely important to us.
In fact, 90 per cent of our visitors fly into Dubai. Transfers are easily arranged or visitors can rent a car for a retreat from the big city.
To be associated with such a huge tourism destination as Dubai can only be a good thing because our destination offering complements Dubai perfectly.
However, Ras Al Khaimah has a unique identity that emphasises authentic Arabian nature and culture based experiences.
The element of ‘accessible Arabia’ combined with stunning natural landscapes puts Ras Al Khaimah on the ‘must see’ list of so many visitors.
BTN: How do you differentiate Ras Al Khaimah from the more developed emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi? What advantages does this bring?
HM: The diversity of the land in Ras Al Khaimah is one of its main points of differentiation from anywhere else in the world. Our natural assets include 40 miles of golden beaches, the highest mountains in UAE, hot springs, rich flora and fauna and a unique terracotta desert.
Only in Ras Al Khaimah can visitors enjoy so many adventures packed into just one break, whether it is an authentic Arabian desert safari, a beach escape or action-packed activities in the mountains.
BTN: What is on offer in Ras Al Khaimah? You are famous for your cultural heritage, with a strong focus on sustainable tourism?
HM: With over 7,000 years of history, modern day Ras Al Khaimah places its cultural heritage at the core of its offering.
The emirate boasts 18 historic fortifications and castles with must-see sights including Sheba’s Palace, Dhayah Fort and the Umm an-Nar tombs, with a history dating back to the 16th century.
Ras Al Khaimah also embraces traditional activities, including camel races, traditional artwork, fishing, date farms and falconry.
All of these activities are a key focus when it comes to preserving the emirate’s heritage for the long-term.
Our vision is to be a sustainable and competitive tourism destination. We will inspire people from around the world to visit Ras Al Khaimah.
At the same time, we will grow tourism into the emirate’s leading socio-economic driver, enhancing the quality of life for residents and offering investors attractive and sustainable opportunities across multiple sectors.
BTN: You have also been a participant in the UNWTO International Year of World Tourism Development – what is going on there?
HM: Tourism is intended to nurture cultural understanding and contribute to sustainable development.
So when the United Nations 70th General Assembly designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, I knew that the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority had to get involved as a sponsor.
With this in mind, we launched our Destination 2019 strategy last year.
The strategy emphasises social inclusiveness, cultural values, diversity and heritage while taking full account of Ras Al Khaimah’s economic, social and environmental impacts.
We want the world to know that our emirate is safe and has something to offer everyone, regardless of race, gender, class, religion, nationality or any other label.
The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has already achieved amazing accomplishments to date.
Still, we still have a lot more to aspire to, and we owe to our people, our emirate and the world, the assurance that we will continue to drive sustainable tourism in Ras Al Khaimah.
With this in mind, we are engaging with UNWTO experts to provide advice and support with our development plans going forward.
BTN: Ras Al Khaimah launched a new tourism strategy - Destination 2019 - last year. What can you tell us about that? What are your ambitions for the project?
HM: Destination Ras Al Khaimah 2019 is the first tourism strategy for Ras Al Khaimah. It sets out a clear roadmap for growing tourism in the years ahead.
As the product of extensive research into consumer insights, the strategy will enable us to lead our industry and many stakeholders to deliver our common goals through 2019 and beyond.
Our strategy aims to bring one million tourists to Ras Al Khaimah by the end of 2018, focusing on three key tourist segments beyond the traditional leisure market seeking sun and sand.
These segments are active adventurers, cultural explorers and luxury indulgence and wellness seekers.
That is why our award-winning destination video is called ‘Beyond a Journey.
Our vision is to create a compelling destination for visitors seeking authentic culture and nature based Arabian experiences.
We will highlight the aspects that are unique to Ras Al Khaimah and present them to the world, ensuring the highest possible standards are delivered at each touch point of the customer journey.
One of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations, Ras Al Khaimah boasts a rich culture and long-standing history dating back 7,000 years.
The emirate boasts an array of archaeological sites and natural vistas, from golden sand beaches, awe-inspiring terracotta dunes and a green belt of date palms to Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE.
Learn more on the official website.