While Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) has been quietly expanding its tourism accommodation capacity recently, it has also been making inroads in the golfing industry to attract more visitors.
A massive addition of hotel capacity - several five-star hotels are planned or are already under construction, providing several thousand extra rooms within the next few years - will also drive more tourists to the emirate - and, it is hoped, to its golf courses.
In April of 2007, Hilton unveiled the first phase of its Hilton Beach Resort, which is expected to be completed at the end of 2008.This is in addition to the Hilton hotel located in Ras al-Khaimah's creek.
Al Hamra Fort Hotel inaugurated its Al Hamra Golf Club at the beginning of 2007. This 9-hole, par 36 course is planned to be expanded into an 18-hole facility some time in the future. The new addition will complement RAK's existing golf facility, the Tower Links Golf Club, an 18-hole, par 72 course, which has been in operation for more than two years.
The effects of these developments can already be felt. As Gary Constable, general manager of the Tower Links Golf Club, told OBG, visitors to the Al Hamra Golf Club will want to try the area's other golfing facilities, and thus will not limit themselves to a single golf course.
"Obviously, the opening of the Al Hamra golf course creates some competition for Tower Links, but it is also raises RAK's profile as a golfing destination, and that is bringing us additional customers," said Constable.
But for RAK to become a golfing destination in its own right, said Constable, "The emirate would need a total of five or six golf courses. Players expect to be able to play on a different one each day."
Most of Tower Links' current visitors are people from Dubai in search of alternatives to that emirate's pricey and crowded facilities. While the number of tourists using the club is on the rise, it remains small. In 2006, just 5% of the club's total attendance was due to tourism. In the first six months of 2007, it has risen to 8%. This trend, though, should accelerate, as Tower Links has signed several package deals with local resorts. "Thanks to packaged offers, we have a large number of bookings for the end of this year," said Constable.
In its bid to develop this industry, RAK can count on a precious, if tiny, ally - the Paspalum Sea Isle, a frugal and salt-tolerant variety of grass that can be watered with a mix of ground and salt water, decreasing the overall consumption of freshwater. Tower Links uses the grass extensively, and according to Constable, "Without Paspalum grass, it wouldn't have been possible to build a golf course in Ras al-Khaimah." The use of this grass has helped minimise the impact of the course's consumption on RAK's water reserves, which are already stretched thin. Al Hamra Golf Club also uses this special grass extensively, and waters it using re-treated water, thus also contributing to reduce its impact on RAK's reserves.
However, both golf clubs each still pump over a million gallons of water every day to water their turfs, and it is not clear that despite the frugality of this grass and the use of salty and re-treated water, the emirate's water reserves can accommodate many more golf courses.
The emirate still has some challenges to overcome if it wishes to rise as an international tourism and golfing destination. Much remains to be done, in particular, in terms of marketing and promotion, and, although the situation has dramatically improved in the past few years, most people have yet to associate the Gulf with sandy beaches, luxurious resorts or golf courses.
Though difficult as it may be, this task is certainly within RAK's reach: Dubai's marketing drive, combined with a massive supply of glitzy tourism facilities, created the "perfect storm" that turned the emirate's image around in just a few years. RAK can certainly emulate that strategy and find and develop its own "brand" and identity.