Interview: Victor A Louis

How are recent government funds being allocated towards developing new tourism projects?

VICTOR A LOUIS: Through further strategic review, we have identified key segments that will boost the emirate’s tourism attractions. The government has assigned to Ras Al Khaimah TDA a sum of $500m until 2013 to develop and increase the number of tourism projects in the emirate. At the moment, funds are being allocated for the final phase of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

We have also invested in the 632-room Rixos Bab Al Bahr Resort, which is the first all-inclusive property of this magnitude in the UAE. This project will help kick off our new strategic development to transforming Marjan Island into a full leisure destination. The island includes full accommodation for both residents and visitors, with sporting facilities and commercial areas, as well as four- and five-star hotels and resorts, including 340-key DoubleTree by Hilton Resort Marjan Island, scheduled to open in 2014.

Furthermore, plans to develop a series of mountain resorts and a museum to be located 900 metres above sea level are also under development. Finally, we have allocated the remaining funds towards expanding and upgrading the Banyan Tree Al Wadi resort, which includes extending the villa complex, building a new equestrian club and expanding the selection of wildlife at the resort. Further upgrade projects include the enhancement of the Al Hamra Marina and Yacht Club and the extension of the Land of Pearls, which is the first of its kind in the region.

In what way can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) be encouraged to play a bigger role when it comes to the services sector?

LOUIS: I believe SMEs will start to play a major role to support the growing number of major development projects and tourist arrivals as the sector continues growing. There is currently a high demand in the services sector, spanning everything from tour operators to charter companies, that will need to help facilitate growth in tourist numbers in the coming years. The visitor numbers of 2011 increased by 40% compared to 2010 and we are aiming to reach 1.2m by 2013. We are increasing the inventory of total hotel rooms to 10,000 by 2016. To keep up with this high rate of growth, we have a dedicated team that facilitates SMEs looking to start a business in the sector.

What strategy is being put in place to further attract tourists to the emirate?

LOUIS: Ras Al Khaimah is an outstanding destination in its own right and also complements the neighbouring emirates of Dubai (we are only a short 45 minute drive away from Dubai International Airport) and Abu Dhabi due to Ras Al Khaimah’s outdoor adventures and affordable luxury experiences. The natural beauty of the emirate is something that immediately captivates visitors, as well as our price competitiveness and value for money experiences compared to other emirates. Additionally, the quality of accommodation, hospitality services, and the historical and cultural attractions are on par with anywhere in the UAE. Word-of-mouth is extremely important and we are confident that those who visit Ras Al Khaimah will become our greatest “Goodwill Ambassadors”.

To further entice visitors, we cannot solely depend on Dubai’s international airport and major carriers as our main source for bringing tourists to our emirate. We are in the process of setting up a charter operation company with fixed aircraft on the ground prepared for back-to-back flights, as is seen in major tourist destinations around the world. We expect this to encourage tour operators to charter flights directly once a week on rotation from season to season from targeted countries. We have identified key markets such as Russia, Germany, the UK and Scandinavia. Furthermore, we attend the various overseas travel shows and exhibitions to promote the destination, as well as taking part in roadshows to various European cities to develop the potential for charter flights.