OBG talks to Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah

Interview: Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasim

Which sectors will provide RAK with the greatest growth over the next few years, and what steps are being taken to attract investors?

SHEIKH SAUD BIN SAQR AL QASIM: GDP in RAK rose by 8% in 2011, and I am confident the rate in 2012 will at least match that. Two sectors in particular, industry and tourism, will provide continued economic growth and will allow RAK to maximise its assets.

Over the years, we have not only attracted international groups to establish businesses here, but we have also developed top-tier companies at home. Stevin Rock and RAK Rock, for instance, are good examples of this in the building materials industry. They lead the market in supplying aggregates to the UAE and the region.

To foster further growth, industrial parks, such as Al Hamra and Ghail, free zones and a maritime city have all been specifically designed to attract investors. RAK has an industry-friendly tax system, competitive production costs and excellent infrastructure, including ports, airports and roads. For example, expansion at Saqr Port has made it the largest bulk port in the Middle East. This highlights the importance our infrastructure currently has when it comes to supporting the development of industrial companies in RAK.

With regard to tourism, the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA) is identifying areas to increase long-term sustainable growth. The number of four- and five-star hotels in RAK and their high occupancy rates point to the success of its strategy. Our current challenge is to build more hotels to reach a target of 10,000 rooms by 2016. We are aiming for 1.2m visitors in 2013.

What new infrastructure projects are in the pipeline for the emirate, and how have investors reacted to these proposed investments?

SHEIKH SAUD: The biggest projects coming up are the inter-emirate road, which will soon be extended to RAK, and Etihad Rail, which is being developed in concert with the other emirates. The rail project has significant potential. Shipping cargo via the rail network would simplify delivery, reduce vehicle traffic and improve road safety. We are also studying plans to expand the RAK airport to cater for the expected increase in demand.

In addition to this, we are seeking to attract more investment in RAK Maritime City and have already seen positive feedback from foreign investors. IT systems are consistently reviewed to make them more accessible and investor-friendly. Alongside promoting industry and tourism, we also want to further improve the quality of life in RAK by the government’s focus on upgrading schools, hospitals and other public facilities.

How can alternative energy strategies be used to minimise the impact of energy shortages when it comes to economic expansion?

SHEIKH SAUD: The federal government is investing heavily in the upgrade of the electrical supply infrastructure, while at the same time a couple of independent power projects have been initiated, which have been instrumental in addressing shortages. It is indicative of the “can do” spirit in Ras Al Khaimah that several industrial companies have turned the energy situation into an opportunity.

A number of cement companies are now undertaking waste heat recovery techniques to make their operations more efficient and become more competitive within their industry. They have switched their fuel from diesel to coal and are continually looking for ways to become more efficient.

That said, here in RAK we want to raise the overall efficiency levels of our industries by reducing energy waste. In addition to conservation techniques, we are also looking into how the emirate can implement alternative methods of energy generation across different sectors of the economy.

The focus on conservation extends to our municipal waste system through our waste recovery scheme. And with regard to landfill, we have identified several ways of turning waste into gas, which can serve as an alternative source of energy.

The overarching idea is to invest in feasible, sustainable projects, as it is important for the future of the emirate to have alternative sources of energy, fostering growth across all areas of the economy. We have a duty to turn the very important issue of high energy consumption into a solution for our energy needs.

What efforts are being undertaken with regards to fostering the development of the education system in the emirate? Are there any particular areas of focus?

SHEIKH SAUD: Over the past 40 years, our whole country has witnessed tremendous transformational changes, and we have come a long way as a result of these changes.

Education is the foundation for growth across sectors. Our aim is to refine the “pyramid of knowledge” and work on ways to upgrade our education system by improving the overall quality of our teachers and professors in both the secondary and tertiary systems, as well as by revising the curricula in place in local schools.

The Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research is at the heart of this work. The foundation has been working with the RAK Education Zone to assess English language teachers in our government schools, addressing any skills gaps.

The Al Qasimi Foundation is also conducting a study to help understand why the proportion of Emirati males who continue into higher education is relatively small. Our aim is to give the population of RAK the choice of being able to stay in the emirate while still attaining a high-quality education, as well as to attract students from outside the emirate.

In what ways is the emirate working to position itself as a first-choice destination for tourists as well as for foreign investors? What role does RAK TDA play in this?

SHEIKH SAUD: I strongly believe that, given the close proximity to key tourism source markets such as Europe, Asia and Russia, RAK will be able to become a leading tourist destination.

By the very creation of RAK TDA, we have consolidated all tourism-related activities under one entity, establishing a one-stop shop for investors that can provide all of the necessary information, including data and feasibility studies.

RAK TDA’s primary objective is to position the emirate regionally and on a global level as a leisure, adventure and value-for-money destination. Its two divisions, tourism and hospitality, have been active in both identifying and developing tourism projects to increase the number of visitors and achieve overall growth for the sector.

I have already mentioned the significant growth in the number of four- and five-star hotels and resorts. One major project – and yet another international brand to come to the emirate – is the UAE’s first Waldorf Astoria hotel, which is scheduled to open in late 2012.

If location is important for tourism vis-à-vis Europe, Asia and Russia, it is equally significant for industrial and other investments as well. You have already seen the steps that we have taken in developing industrial parks, free zones, ports and a maritime city. But this is not the end of the process. It is only the beginning.

We want to maintain a fluid business environment where the government is quickly responsive to investors’ needs, monitoring new ideas and striving for perpetual improvement. We are continually scrutinising our policies to simplify them, as well as increasing the level of transparency, which is rightly an extremely important issue for our investors.

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