Ras Al Khaimah, one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the region, is set to surpass the number of tourists it received in 2022, driven by more direct airline connections and the emirate’s efforts to bring attract tourists from India and China.
The tourism sector in Ras Al Khaimah, which is positioning itself as a sustainable and nature destination, has recovered strongly from the pandemic-driven slowdown and attracted a record 1.13 million visitors last year.
“Our goal for 2023 is to exceed that”, Raki Phillips, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), told The National on Wednesday.
“We're very pleased with the results that we had in 2022, superseding 2019 results [before the pandemic], but our goal is to continue to grow.”
The 15.6 per cent annual jump in overall visitor numbers in the emirate was driven by a 40 per surge in international tourists from its key source markets, including Kazakhstan, Russia, the UK, Czech Republic and Germany.
“We closed 2022 with 55 per cent domestic and 45 per cent international visitors. Year-to-date that has switched around. We're seeing more international travellers versus domestic,” he said.
The emirate is now focusing on the Indian and Chinese markets, key sources of tourists for the larger Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets.
“We just had our record February number of arrivals … and I think that will set us on the right track” to exceed last year’s performance, Mr Phillips said.
It will be a couple of years before China becomes one of the top five source markets for the emirate, but it has great potential for growth and even a gradual rise in the number of Chinese tourists will help the tourism authority achieve its targets, he said.
India is “low-hanging fruit” and the emirate has taken several measures to boost Indian tourists’ arrival in Ras Al Khaimah, he said.
The emirate is aiming for a 70:30 split, where 70 of its visitors will be international and 30 per cent domestic “in the next three to four years”, he added.
Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism and leisure sector received “billions of dollars” worth of foreign direct investment in 2022 and the emirate is set to exceed that number in 2023.
Investments made by Aldar, Abu Dhabi’s biggest listed developer, in Ras Al Khaimah’s prime assets are examples of the emirate's success in attracting investment.
In November last year, Aldar Properties acquired a beachfront plot in Ras Al Khaimah from master developer Marjan, with plans to combine the plot with land purchased as part of the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island acquisition earlier in 2022, in a Dh810 million ($220.55 million) deal.
In April, Aldar bought Rixos Bab Al Bahr hotel in Ras Al Khaimah in a Dh770 million transaction, and in February it acquired Al Hamra Mall in a $111.6 million deal, which was its first investment outside Abu Dhabi.
Ras Al Khaimah — which has the world's longest zip line at Jebel Jais, 64km of coastline, adventure tourism offerings and heritage sites such as Al Jazirah Al Hamra — has traditionally been popular with UAE residents and visitors from CIS markets.
The tourism sector in the emirate is set for a further boost from more international airlines establishing direct connectivity, Mr Phillips said.
Earlier this month, Qatar Airways said it will start direct flights from Doha to Ras Al Khaimah, which the airline has not operated since 2017.
The emirate will be Qatar Airways' fourth destination in the UAE after Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with flights scheduled to resume on November 1.
On Wednesday, RAKTDA announced its agreement with FTI Group, a Germany-based outbound tour operator, which will operate twice-weekly flights from Munich to RAK Airport, starting in the fourth quarter of this year.
The emirate also aims to boost the cruise industry and continue to push for doubling its hotel room keys to about 16,000 in the next three to five years.
“We had 8,000 keys in the market last year … but now we're looking at doubling the inventory, so for us, it's so important to continuously grow our visitor arrival numbers, and to be able to achieve success for our hotel partners”, Mr Phillips said.