Ras Al Khaimah is spending Dh500 million ($136.14m) on 20 sustainable tourism projects within the emirate as it looks to tap into global demand for eco-tourism, the head of its Tourism Development Authority said.
The investment – in partnership with RAK Hospitality Holding and the emirate's Chamber of Commerce and Industry – will be made over the next 24 months, Raki Phillips, chief executive of the authority, told The National on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market exhibition in Dubai on Sunday.
This will significantly increase the number of hotel rooms in the emirate.
“Right now, Ras Al Khaimah has about 6,700 keys and in the next year and half to two years, we are doubling that,” said Mr Phillips.
“This year alone, even though it is a pandemic year, we have several hotels that are opening.”
He said it was important for the emirate to continue investing in developing its tourism sector as demand remains robust despite pandemic-driven headwinds.
“Pre-pandemic, we had more than 1.1 million tourists that came to RAK ... 70 per cent of those were international and the rest domestic,” said Mr Phillips.
Although there was a 75 per cent global fall in international tourism numbers last year, “our decline was just about 25 per cent, so really it is a third of the global average”, he said, quoting UN World Travel Organisation data.
The potential of cultural and nature projects will continue to grow and the emirate is nowhere close to the capacity it wants to achieve in terms of tourism numbers, said Mr Phillips. Last year, 800,000 people visited Ras Al Khaimah. The emirate plans to increase this to more than 900,000 this year.
“We have a lot more to offer,” he said.
In terms of priorities, the emirate will invest in projects that are sustainable. It will assess the situation and then determine the scale of further investments, said Mr Phillips.
In its latest round, the authority is developing several projects at Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest peak. They include Earth Hotels Altitude, an eco-based pop-up establishment, as well as mountain lodges, a camping site, a food and beverage village, dedicated paragliding pads and a base for hot air balloons.
It is also developing a large beachfront project by Marjan with a marine district and a Scallop Ranch that will offer oysters and diving packages.
Ras Al Khaimah has the world’s longest zip line, 64 kilometres of coastline, adventure tourism offerings and heritage sites such as Al Jazirah Al Hamra. It has traditionally been popular with UAE residents and visitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Ras Al Khaimah expects the border closure with India – a key source market that is battling a second coronavirus wave – to affect its tourism sector this year. However, it is still “too early” to say how big the impact would be, said Mr Phillips.