Who is trying to steal tourism hot spot accolade from Dubai?
When you think of tourism, hospitality and shopping, Dubai comes to mind.
This well-known city ranked first on the list of countries attracting overnight international visitors in the MENA region with 14.87 million visitors in 2016, up from 14.2m visitors in 2015, according to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index 2017.
Another emirate, which was only known for being one of the seven emirates in the UAE a few years ago, is now making bold moves forward. Its conservative nature used overshadowed its push towards visibility and developing touristic attractions, but the situation is now changing in its favor.
Stop wondering who. It’s Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). Today it is edging closer to the 900,000 visitor mark for 2017, after producing record arrivals in the first nine months of this year, according to RAK Tourism Development Authority. (RAKTDA).
The latest RAKTDA results reveal that visitor arrivals in the first nine months reached 631,617, guest nights grew 12.4 per cent, occupancy rose 1.3 per cent and reached 69.2 per cent, while length of stay came in at 3.55 days – a growth of nine per cent.
According to RAKTDA, Germany, Russia, the UK, India and Kazakhstan came in as the emirate’s top five international source markets, with the most prominent growth from Russia and arrivals growing 66.34 per cent. Other major international gains came from the Czech Republic, which delivered a 67.58 per cent growth, and Poland with arrivals soaring by 281.97 per cent.
“These results are directly attributable to the increased overseas tourism partnerships, promotional and marketing activities,” explained Haitham Mattar, CEO, RAKTDA. “We have also witnessed double-digit growth from the Nordics and Central European regions, and will be looking to further engage travel trade partners within these markets to build on nascent potential.”
RAKTDA claims that it is targeting 900,000 visitors in 2017, while it aims to attract one million visitors by the end of 2018 and RAK is expecting an influx of new hotel inventory to cope with the increasing demand.
“Hotel capacity is expected to number 15,000 to 20,000 rooms by 2025. The emirate expects to grow its accommodation stock by 4,400 rooms over the next three years with a mix of 3 to 5-star properties,” it said.
With the impressive figures registered by RAK, the emirate seems to be ready, willing and able to compete with other touristic destinations in the region.
But what makes it such an attractive destination?
A plus one goes for RAK for its nature and adventure tourism. RAKTDA is investing in a growing number of experiences to highlight its combination of mountainous terrain, sandy beaches, terracotta sand dunes and stunning landscapes, reveals CrownGate International, a real estate developer.
It says that among the most prominent in the recent months has been the Jebel Jais Via Ferrata (Iron Path) adventure challenge in the Hajar Mountains, which has 3 climbing, trekking and zip line paths, more than 400m above sea level.
“Jebel Jais itself is the tallest peak in the UAE and attracts thousands of visitors a year on its own and RAKTDA has also just announced a record-breaking tourist attraction set to open on Jebel Jais – the world’s longest zip line, set to open in December of this year, which will be longer than the current 2.5km world record holder in Puerto Rico,” it says.
A report by RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) reveals that RAK is characterized by a pro-business environment, regulatory stability and robust infrastructure.
It is comprised of two dedicated industrial parks, a combined area of 30-million square meters, while providing hassle-free business setup and economical solutions to help clients compete regionally and globally.
It said that the emirate was home to over 500 manufacturers and thousands of SMEs.
Moreover, it offers low costs of business set-up and operations, an ease of doing business, 100% tax exemptions (no corporate or personal taxes) and 100% foreign ownership in free zone companies.
But Ras Al Khaimah is not the only attractive destination in the UAE.
The Sharjah challenge
Sharjah is among the emirates that are also attracting a high number of tourists and generating a generous amount of revenues.
The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, SCTDA, announced that Sharjah’s hospitality sector witnessed a remarkable 7.8 percent increase in revenue during the first half of 2017, compared to the previous year, with its value reaching AED372 million.
The SCTDA reported a massive 70 percent occupancy rate from January to June this year.
“The total number of guests for the first half of the year reached 885,000, representing a 3.5 percent increase versus the same period in 2016. Saudi nationals occupied many of the local hotels’ lists of top guests. During the first two quarters of the year alone, hotels welcomed at least 72,000 Saudi travelers,” it said.
It will be interesting to see which other emirates are also raising the stakes.