Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost emirate in the United Arab Emirates and the region’s fastest-growing tourism destination, is upping the ante in its quest to be the Middle East’s adventure tourism capital.
With a 7,000-year history, the emirate is blessed with an incredibly diverse landscape comprising 64 kilometres of pristine beaches, golden desert, mangroves, abundant wildlife, nature and mountains that are 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the emirate.
Jebel Jais, the highest peak in the country at 1,934 metres above sea level, is most inviting to mountain hikers, motorists, adventure seekers and those wanting to explore the flora and fauna of the Al Hajar Mountains bordering Oman.
Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras al- Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), stressed the growing popularity of the emirate is resulting in “weekend pressure.”
“While having more hotels would be one way to solve the problem and encourage repeat travel, which is important in terms of boosting revenue, we also need to find ways to encourage domestic visitors to book in advance,” he said.
For many families in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, getting out during the weekend has meant a drive to Ras al-Khaimah and booking a relaxing weekend and an ideal getaway from everyday life.
The adventure-minded and outdoor enthusiasts also head to Ras al-Khaimah, whether it is for desert camping, sailing and water sports, golf, kayaking, mountain hiking, cycling or motoring to the summit of Jebel Jais.
For those seeking to explore culture, heritage and natural history there are wadis in the mountains or the Dhayah Fort — the only hilltop fort in the UAE that was the last point of resistance to British forces.
Ras al-Khaimah’s tourism strategy is largely based on highlighting nature and adventure, the emirate’s strengths, Mattar said at the Arabian Travel Market. The emirate also worked with travel and tourism partners, conservation and cultural organisations to showcase its history and heritage.
The number of visitors to Ras al-Khaimah reached 390,499 from January through June 2017, an increase of 6.5% in arrivals compared to last year. Hotel guest nights and lengths of stay also went up. Hotels reported their best summer performance with a 27% year-on-year increase in June guest arrivals.
Officials said they were confident the emirate was on course to reach 900,000 visitor arrivals this year, being “in a solid position to optimise the traditional peak season of late summer and the fourth quarter.”
In April, RAKTDA launched a dedicated summer campaign called “Feel Free this Summer,” which runs through September, leveraging the emirate as an ideal summer holiday destination.
The UAE remains the most significant source market for Ras al- Khaimah with more than one-third of visitors being domestic.
“Our ‘Feel Free’ push plugs into everything that is great about Ras al-Khaimah as a multifaceted tourism destination,” Mattar said. “In addition to offering fantastic value for money, we have focused on promoting our amazing landscapes.”
Recently, Thomas Cook announced plans to open its first own-brand hotel in the UAE in Ras al-Khaimah in November. It is to feature 253 chalets, a private beach, three pools, a spa and dining outlets. In a marketing agreement with RAKTDA, Thomas Cook will promote the emirate as a year-round leisure destination for European tourists.
Internationally, Ras al-Khaimah’s four largest source markets remain Germany, Russia, Britain and India. Russia is ahead of Britain as the emirate’s second largest international source market. Britain and India rank third and fourth, with gains of 21% and 22%, respectively, year-on-year.
The half-year figures showed a significant increase in tourist arrivals from other emerging destinations: Kazakhstan, up 16%; Poland, up 224%; and the Czech Republic, up 81%.
As part of its emerging attractions, the emirate launched Jebel Jais Via Ferrata (Iron Path) — a cross between rock climbing and mountaineering — in December 2016. The inaugural season of the kilometre-long path had a successful run and has been a hit with sporting enthusiasts from the Gulf and Europe.
A multi-purpose observation deck and event area near the Jebel Jais summit at an elevation of approximately 1,227 metres above sea level is to open in October.
Official cycling and hiking routes across the emirate — with a focus on Jebel Jais — are also in development.
Ras al-Khaimah is targeting 1 million visitors by next year and, judging by the attractions and facilities being put in place that appeal to a wide range of visitors, the optimism of tourism officials seems well-founded.
N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.
Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly.