Already known as a hub for adventure tourism, Ras Al Khaimah is flying into the record books with the launch of the longest and highest zip line in the world, which will see thrillseekers travel horizontally at speeds of up to 120kph.
The as-yet unnamed attraction has been two years in the making and follows on from the success of RAK’s Via Ferrata experience, which incorporates rock climbing with three smaller zip lines on Jebel Jais mountain, the UAE’s highest peak at 1,934m.
The exact length of the zip line has not been revealed but it will be 1,900m above sea level, 500m above the road below and will “surpass by some distance” the existing record holder, “The Monster” zip line in Puerto Rico that is 2.2km long. It is part of an ongoing development plan to build a zip line park at Jebel Jais consisting of eight to 10 zip lines, one of which, at 1km long, will launch alongside the longest in the world in December.“This zip line will be like no other experience out there,” said Haitham Mattar, the chief executive of RAK Tourism Development Authority, which is behind the project.
“Once harnessed to the zip line in a horizontal superhero position, participants will soar through the sky as if they’re a bird for about 2 and a half minutes. It’s the closest you can get to the experience of flying.
“The flight will take them to a suspended landing platform where they will be transferred to a second line to complete their journey back to the ground. In its first phase of operations, the zip line will be able to accommodate 250 people a day - that’s 100,000 in a year.
“Nothing like this exists in the world – let alone this region. It is a true first for Ras Al Khaimah and adds another amazing attraction to the UAE’s diverse tourism portfolio.”
RAK is in the process of capitalising on its natural attractions to lure more adventure tourists to the emirate.
RAK TDA is in the middle of a three-year plan to increase tourist numbers to one million by 2018, and is already well on its way, with 900,000 visitors so far in 2017, up from about 500,000 a year when the plan launched in January last year.
Its longer term goal is to increase those numbers further to 3 million tourists by 2025, which puts the UAE’s northernmost emirate on par with the whole country of Oman.
“New attractions are key to growth,” said Mr Mattar at the launch on Tuesday. “Our goal is to attract tourists seeking adventure, nature and cultural heritage.
“Through studies we found that the first motivation for travel was beach, sun and sea, but the second motivation for travel was adventure, so we were looking for diversity for our tourism, as we were very highly dependent on beachgoers.
“Focusing on Jebel Jais and building an adventure park there, we started on the Via Ferrata, which was running at about 80 per cent occupancy even during weekdays and choc-a-bloc on weekends, so we wanted to expand that.
“The new zip line represents Ras Al Khaimah’s most significant tourism product opening since Al Marjan Island, our coral-shaped leisure tourism archipelago. This key product launch will further enhance our unique mountain-beach-desert offering.”
The first target market for the new attraction will be the domestic tourism market, which accounts for 35 per cent of RAK’s overall tourism numbers, followed by overseas visitors.
Dr Jolly Antony, founder and CEO of Al Safina Travel and Tourism in RAK, said the emirate’s tourism industry is on the up and the zip line will keep it in that trajectory.
“RAK was not such a famous location up until 2010 but from then on big growth started, with the opening of 4 and 5-star hotels and flights direct from Saudi Arabia and India,” he said.
“Absolutely, this new attraction will boost tourism. The tourist board in RAK is very strong at exhibiting at travel shows across the world and, with more hotel brands coming in the next two to three years, RAK will continue to boom.”
The zip line park is being built and operated by Toro Verde, the company that runs The Monster in Puerto Rico, and it is being billed as an eco-tourism project that will utilise local construction materials and have a minimal impact on the environment, in part as the zip line will use body weight, not motorised engines, to propel people.
The first two zip lines to open are expected to cost up to $2.5 million and, once completed in June next year, the entire park should cost about $6m.
“Jebel Jais’ dramatic and beautiful landscape offers an iconic backdrop for what will be a bucket list experience for people all around the world,” said Jorge Jorge, the CEO of Toro Verde Ras Al Khaimah.
Ricardo Lizano, COO of Toro Verde Ras Al Khaimah, added: “The Jebel Jais zip line experience will consist of two lines, allowing friends and family to take part in the flight together. On arrival at the welcome centre, which features a lounge, restaurant, lockers, equipment storage and offices, participants will be given a pre-briefing and then escorted to the launch platform and fitted with a special suit and equipment for this adventure.”
The first paying customers will be able to try the experience on December 1 and, of course in the UAE, VIPs will be able to take a helicopter ride to the location and enjoy a VIP lounge before trying out the zip line.
Those looking to book will be able to do so in advance online, over the phone or via travel agents, though exact details have yet to be released.
The zip line will be open to all ages, providing participants meet the required minimum weight of 35kg and maximum weight of 150kg, and a minimum height of 120cm.