Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) boasts sun-kissed, sandy beaches, the Al Hajar mountain range, vast desert plains and a green belt the government is keen to capitalise on in developing the tourist industry.
But its commitment to expanding tourism does not rely solely on the emirate’s natural attractions. Significant capital is also being invested in creating leisure facilities such as the Al Hamra and Tower Links golf clubs, as well as a massive water theme park.
The first phase of the Ice Land Water Park, promoted by WOW RAK, opened in September 2010. Polo RAK Amusements, the company behind WOW RAK, is a joint venture between India’s Polo Amusement Park and the local government, through the RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) and RAK Properties. The initial phase of the park houses the world’s largest manmade waterfall (36 metres high and 164 metres wide) as well as a rain-dance pool, the largest in the world at 5574 square metres. The venue has a four megawatt in-house power generator, a desalination plant that can process more than two million litres of water a day and filtration systems that maintain the 18 million litres of pool water. Onsite parking is provided for 2500 cars and 75 buses.
“We have already started work on the second phase of WOW RAK as a complete family entertainment destination, including a 180-room resort facility, a 12,077 sq m shopping mall and 25-acre [100,000 sq m] amusement park,” says Santokh Chawla, managing director, Polo RAK Amusements.
The company is also keen to attract corporate business. “We are developing conference facilities and team-building activities targeted at Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” John Puthen, assistant director of sales at Polo RAK Amusements, tells fDi.
Hotels are shooting up throughout the emirate, especially at the luxury end of the market, with big players such as Hilton, Rotana and Banyan Tree putting their names to establishments here. The seven-star Palace Ras Al Khaimah is also a major feature of the skyline.
Hilton Worldwide entered the RAK market in 2001 and now has more than 800 rooms spread across three hotels: the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah and Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Ras Al Khaimah, which opened earlier this year. It is set to open the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah in 2012 and the Hilton Mina Al Arab Resort in 2013. Earlier this year it signed a deal with the Al Hamra Real Estate Development Company to take over management of the Al Hamra Fort Hotel, which will open under the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand from 2013. According to Essam Abouda, vice-president of operations, Arabian Peninsula and Indian Ocean, Hilton Worldwide, the company’s main source markets for RAK are the UK, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, with a split between leisure and business of 80% to 20%.
According to Mr Abouda, Hilton Worldwide has big plans for the emirate. He says: “RAK is developing quickly. It has one of the fastest-growing and most cost-effective free trade zones in the UAE and the international airport is being refurbished, which coincides with RAK Airways starting up again. The government has made a big push to promote tourism and has set up a tourism authority to help it achieve its targets. RAK aims to quadruple the number of tourists that visit each year and is looking to have at least 30 hotels. Six of those will be ours.”
The creation of the RAK Tourism Development Authority earlier this year should address some of the concerns of those in the industry who have criticised the emirate’s lack of a cohesive approach to the sector. Indeed, there’s real optimism in RAK’s tourism industry about the authority, which will be responsible for planning, regulating and developing the sector and tourist destinations.
Less than an hour’s drive to Dubai airport, RAK is already effectively served by many of the world’s leading airlines. However, it is stepping up its efforts to encourage travellers to fly directly to the emirate.
“I want to make sure I give value for money and at the same time keep investing in the airport,” says Roland Blaney, chief executive officer, RAK International Airport. “When we market the airport I want to be clear about what we do. I do not want to give airlines and tour operators empty promises, so we aim to provide quality consistent service delivery.”
RAK Airways reopened for business as a full-service airline in October 2010. It now flies to six destinations, including Cairo, Doha, Jeddah and Dhaka, using Airbus A320 aircraft.
“RAK Airways is building a good reputation and we are seeing a steady flow of passengers,” says Mr Blaney. “We have also welcomed European charter flights this year and picked up some business during the unrest in north Africa during the spring. Our aim now is to build on that and encourage more operators to fly our tourists directly into our airport.”
A shore thing
RAK’s coast is pulling visitors to its shores. A new sailing club has been established in Al Hamra, and there are also opportunities to build business in the north of the emirate, at Al Jeer Port, which hosts a sailing club and 266-berth marina near Oman’s Musandam Peninsular. Capt Colin FG Crookshank, general manager of Saqr Port Authority, says: “People from Dubai can drive here easily, collect their boat and their relevant licences, go up and sail in Oman for the weekend, then leave their boat here and go back to Dubai. This means they gain access to great cruising ground much quicker than if they had set out by boat from Dubai.”
On the radar
The emirate is also able to handle the burgeoning cruise ship business through RAK Khor Port. “So far we have seen three cruise vessels pass through there this year,” says Mr Crookshank.
“RAK is now on the map as a choice for people, whether they want a weekend break or some winter sun,” says Mr Abouda. “It has done well to differentiate its offering from the other emirates. RAK has a great feel to it and this is partly because the infrastructure to support the industry is being put in place.”