As Ras al Khaimah prepares to host the World Travel & Tourism Council Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum, Breaking Travel News speaks with Raki Phillips, newly appointed chief executive of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
He tells us about his ambitions for the event, what it will mean to tourism in the most northerly of the United Arab Emirates and how important the MICE sector will be moving forward.
Breaking Travel News: Ras al Khaimah is preparing to host the World Travel & Tourism Council Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum 2019 – what is on the agenda for the event?
Raki Phillips: We are honoured to be the first to host the inaugural edition of the WTTC Middle East Leaders Forum at Ras Al Khaimah.
The forum is bringing together government agencies, industry associations, chief executives and senior leaders of the top travel and tourism companies, industry experts, and media from across the Middle East to discuss contemporary issues facing the sector and to identify growth opportunities for advancing the regional agenda.
With the help of world-class speakers and key industry stakeholders, the one-day forum is going to host keynotes and panel discussions on important themes, including: sector challenges and investment opportunities; the need for skill development and job creation; sustainable development with climate action; and digital disruption.
BTN: How does the hospitality sector in Ras al Khaimah benefit from hosting prestigious events such as this?
RP: The Ras Al Khaimah hospitality market continues to grow from strength to strength due to the notable rise in the number of international and domestic visitors, and commendable hotel performance across many metrics, over the past few years.
Around 80 per cent of our overall five-star hotel inventory is luxury.
Ras Al Khaimah is largely a leisure destination, attracting active adventurers, cultural explorers, and luxury and wellness seekers from around the world.
However, as one of the most diverse destinations in the region with its high-profile adventure attractions, natural landscapes, and cultural assets, Ras Al Khaimah has also begun to draw interest from corporate travellers from around the region and beyond in recent years.
As we continue to see a gradual rise in the number of corporate travellers in the emirate, we’re strengthening our MICE profile further on the global stage by hosting events such as the World Travel & Tourism Council Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum, Arabian Hotel Investment Conference and the Belgian Travel Summit.
We are very committed to supporting our hotels - roping them in for our integrated seasonal campaigns, trade roadshows and MICE business opportunities – to also help drive their corporate bookings throughout the year.
BTN: Is this part of a wider push into MICE tourism for Ras al Khaimah? You welcomed the opening of the Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre earlier this year to facilitate this market, for example.
RP: From pristine beaches and expansive deserts, to majestic mountains and historic forts, Ras Al Khaimah offers an exceptional backdrop for all kinds of events in the MICE tourism sector.
While Ras Al Khaimah continues to build resounding credentials within the region’s MICE sector, the emirate has already attracted many key conferences and events over the last few years, such as Arabian Hotel Investment Conference, Association of Independent Tour Operators Annual Conference and Belgian Travel Summit, with upcoming events such as the PATA Annual Summit 2020 already marked on calendars.
Only a 45-minute drive from the Dubai International Airport, Ras Al Khaimah is a boutique MICE destination with a highly competitive inventory of facilities including, five-star hotels and resorts, two 18-hole golf courses and the region’s first of its kind convention centre, Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre which spans a total area of 4,500 metres squared while boasting impressive Arabesque interiors and expansive ocean views.
Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre is an impressive architectural milestone which proves our desire to further elevate our MICE offering.
The resplendent interiors enhance the warmth exuded by the lobby lounges, while the use of contemporary materials add to the visual appeal, paying homage to the local culture through the incorporation of elements of Arabic design.
While Ras Al Khaimah plans to host more events, conferences and incentives groups through event organisers and MICE planners, the emirate also aims to introduce its authentic Arabian culture and heritage to its commercially inclined visitors, encouraging them to explore historical sites, interact with local communities, and experience rich customs, traditions and delicacies.
As we aim to become a MICE destination of choice in the Middle East, we will continue amplifying our destination awareness even further, reinforcing existing relationships with key partners, and securing new wins ranging from high-level incentives to global conferences.
BTN: You personally stepped into lead the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority earlier this year. How have you found the role to date and what are your expectations moving forward?
RP: The last few months have been great, and I have been loving it so far!
Ras Al Khaimah is, undoubtedly, a diverse tourism destination in the region, thanks to its unique portfolio of nature-adventure assets which allows it to compete with top worldwide destinations.
Under the wise leadership of sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, supreme council member and ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate has a promising future and I’m very excited to play a part towards fulfilling his vision.
And I’m very confident that as a priority sector, tourism in the emirate is destined for exponential growth.
Tourism is one of the key drivers of Ras Al Khaimah’s continued growth in GDP and employment.
Knowing that the RAKTDA is playing a big role in facilitating this very growth, I am excited to see how we unfold our ambitious, strategic priorities for the future.
Guided by our Destination Strategy 2019-2021, we remain focused on diversifying the emirate’s tourism offering to attract a wider segment of tourists and higher-yield visitors looking for unique travel experiences.
We also remain focused on attracting foreign and local investment within the tourism sector; nurturing home-grown small- and medium sized-enterprises to create further employment and business opportunities for Emiratis while prioritising sustainable nature-based adventure and authentic cultural experiences.
BTN: You have seen some early success, with Ras Al Khaimah seeing record visitor numbers in August. How much further can tourism in the emirate grow?
RP: We have seen a record number of visitors with almost 118,000 arrivals during the month of August 2019 alone, which contributed to a five per cent growth in overall visitor arrivals year-to-date.
Our reports also revealed an 8.4 per cent increase in domestic visitor arrivals which reflect a rise in the emirate’s popularity as a preferred staycation destination amongst UAE residents.
Earlier this year, we revealed a host of attractive summer offers as part of the emirate’s ongoing destination marketing campaign - Kids go Free - which highlights the hidden gems, diverse attractions and adventures on offer across the Emirate.
We believe that these efforts played a vital role in increasing the number of visitors during the summer period, especially with such a huge variety of accommodation options offering unbeatable deals for families as well as significant discounts on some of the emirate’s key adventure attractions including the Jebel Jais Flight: the world’s longest zipline.
We just announced the launch of Jebel Jais Zipline Tour, which will join and complement the existing attractions at Jebel Jais, including the Jebel Jais Via Ferrata (mountain climbing) and the Jebel Jais Flight.
These new product launches are in line with the Emirate’s Destination Strategy 2019-2021, which requires us to create compelling offerings, while combining the Emirate’s key promises: pristine beaches; natural beauty, including the country’s highest mountain peak – Jebel Jais – where temperatures are around ten degrees lower than sea level; cultural heritage; excellence in hospitality and unrivalled experiences in order to attract close to 1.5 million visitors by 2021, and three million visitors by 2025.
Ras Al Khaimah is the northernmost of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
It is known for its rich history, dating back 7,000 years, and diverse landscape, including 64 kilometres of pristine beaches, terracotta deserts and imposing mountain backdrops.
There are also hundreds of exciting videos from Travel TV featuring Ras al Khaimah here, while Breaking Travel News’ partner Virtual Tours is also currently showcasing a series of new 3D explorations of the leading properties in the emirate.
World Travel Awards
Ras al Khaimah was last year recognised as the Middle East’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards - successfully defending the title the emirate first won in 2018.
As a result, Ras al Khaimah is in the running for the title of World’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination.
The winners of the global title will be revealed at the prestigious World Travel Awards Grand Final, this year taking place at the Royal Opera House Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman on November 28th.
Find out more about that event here.