The emirate of Ras al Khaimah is emerging from the shadow of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and according to hoteliers the market needs more of its own key demand generators.
RAS AL KHAIMAH, United Arab Emirates—Ras al Khaimah, the market with arguably the most potential in the United Arab Emirates, is increasingly making noise in the region as an investment and travel destination alternative to the nation’s two heavyweights, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, according to sources.
As the host for the 14th annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference—the first time it was held outside of Dubai—Ras al Khaimah had the chance to enjoy the spotlight, and there was no shortage of people in attendance touting its jewels.
During a session titled “Destination development,” panelists said Ras al Khaimah should not make the error of trying to copy other markets, even if that market is a well-known Emirati city 65 or so miles south along the coast.
“One mistake is that we replicate Dubai,” said Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group. “Maybe we can do that in terms of the strategy, certainly when it comes to developing activities. When it comes to repeat customers, an activity calendar is critical.”
Abdullah Al Abdooli, CEO and managing director of Al Marjan Island—the emirate’s key destination, an artificial island stretching almost three miles into the Arabian Gulf—said there is commitment for a unified tourism and hospitality plan from all Ras al Khaimah’s government entities.
“Ras al Khaimah has a single strategy, so if the theme park is not in Al Marjan, it will be somewhere else in the emirate,” he said. “Al Marjan is the iconic real estate development in Ras al Khaimah, with 207,000 acres and the goal of reaching 2.9 million visitors by 2025. Fifty percent of the pipeline Ras al Khaimah needs will be on Al Marjan.”
Emaar is showing commitment, too, Harnisch said.
“We’ve announced an Address (Hotels + Resorts asset) on Al Marjan, a testament to our belief in Ras al Khaimah, even though our home is in Dubai,” he said.
According to data from STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, Ras al Khaimah hotel occupancy increased 3.2% year over year in March to 77.5%.
Revenue per available room for the same period grew 2.1% to 472.49 Emirati dirhams ($128.66), while average daily rate fell 1.1% to 609.93 dirhams ($166.08).
Another offering the emirate hopes will become a world-class attraction is the world’s longest zip line—1.76 miles, reaching more than 90 miles per hour from a height of 5,512 feet—which opened in January in Jebel Jais in the Hajar Mountains.
“Unique selling points are all,” said Shaji Thomas, executive director of destination tourism development at the Ras al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority. “(The zip line) has already had 5,000 visitors, and these are unique visitors who might not have thought of Ras al Khaimah.”
Another strength Ras al Khaimah needs to publicize, according to panelists, is its Emiratization.
“There is authenticity in Ras al Khaimah. Seventy percent here are Emirati, whereas in Dubai it is pretty much exactly the opposite,” Harnisch said, adding that it’s a problem that many people outside of the country identify the United Arab Emirates as being only Dubai.
Other unique selling points are Ras al Khaimah’s 40 miles of beach and, ironically, its proximity to Dubai, Thomas said.
Both Ras al Khaimah and Dubai International Airport (DXB) are north of Dubai, he said, so “we joke that it is easier to get here from DXB than it is to get to the Madinat Jumeirah.”
“One thing we also make sure we do not do is to overdevelop,” Thomas added.
Panelists said to create a truly world-class tourism destination, Ras al Khaimah has to have the development, population and backbone of a thriving city.
“To develop tourism and the infrastructure to support it, you need health care and education to make sure people will live here,” said Reem Osman, CEO of the Saudi-German Hospital Emirates, which has hospitals in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and now Ras al Khaimah.
“Cities need wellness and rehabilitation, with tie-ins to hotels,” Osman added.
The city of Ras al Khaimah often is overlooked by visitors, but developers and hospitality providers understand that it also needs sprucing up, panelists said.
“There are some new developments in the city. There are plans for more affordable, middle-class housing, a new downtown and residences for the 350,000 employees,” Al Abdooli said.
Osman added: “Guests coming to our hospital might also stay more days, and locals support it all as they do see the success enjoyed by other emirates.”