No longer the hidden gem of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah is experiencing a tourist boom thanks in part to its fast growing reputation as an adventure sports hotspot.
March was a record month for the tourism authority, with occupancy rates in RAK hotels at 87.5 per cent.
In a crowded travel market, RAK offers something different – but that comes at a price, with safety a major factor in adventure sports tourism.
In November, ten hikers were rescued after losing their way in the RAK mountains.
Police deployed foot patrols and a helicopter after the alarm was raised, and all hikers were rescued safely, but exhausted.
It was a stark reminder of the dangers of enjoying the great outdoors, and steps are underway to make the region safer with more signposted routes for hikers and bikers.
“Adventure tourism will always carry an element of risk,” said Haitham Mattar, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, speaking at this week's Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“The challenges we’ve had with people disappearing is when they go off route and want to explore without following the signs put up for hikers.
“We have increased the levels of signage and the new routes will be colour coded to show level of difficulty and we will be providing maps with GPS points to help them get back safely.”
Tourism revenue is growing at 10 per cent year on year. More than 5,000 adrenaline seekers have visited the emirate to take on the Toroverde zipline, officially the longest in the world at 2.83km, since opening in February.
Due to its popularity, it will double in size with two extra lines to be built in July.
The extensions will allow four people at a time to ride from the zipline, 1,680 metres above sea level from Jebel Jais.
Mountain biking and new hiking routes are also being extended to cover 81 kilometers, with a 30km route due to open by the end of the year.
Routes will have three different starting points and eventually take in a new luxury wilderness camp with 36 units, including family rooms, royal suites, spa and outdoor gym.
There will be adventure activities for children also, set in the mountains and will be open by the end of 2020.
“The great outdoors is what has been missing from the UAE, particularly in the summer, but that is beginning to change with what we are building in RAK,” said Mr Mattar.
“The temperature can be 10 degrees lower in the mountains than in the rest of the country, there is very little humidity even in summer.”
Rubbish strewn around popular beauty spots and trails has blighted many visits to the mountains, but that is also beginning to change since fines for littering in the area doubled from Dh500 to Dh1000.
Waste management has also increased in the mountains, to help keep them looking their best whilst protecting the environment and the wildlife living there.
“We have created our own identity, by giving people more things to do in RAK we are seeing an increase in the average length of stay,” said Mr Mattar.
“The terrain is beautiful, and natural with wildlife like oryx or desert foxes. You don’t get to see this elsewhere in the UAE.
“The municipality, public works and police are working with us to make a visit here as safe as possible.
“Hiking is becoming more popular here and we are acting quickly to provide the right services so they can enjoy their adventure.
“We have seen big improvements, not just because more effort is being made to clean up the area but people’s behaviour is also changing and they are taking more responsibility.”