RAK: Rising profile

Ras Al Khaimah’s (RAK’s) tourism sector continues to exceed expectations, with visitor arrivals well up on forecasts and overseas investment flowing in. However, the emirate faces stiff competition in a crowded market to develop brand recognition.

According to data issued by the RAK Tourism Development Authority (TDA), the emirate hosted 523,568 visitors in the first five months of the year, well over the forecast of 500,000 for the opening half of 2012. This increase in visitor numbers saw occupancy rates at beachside hotels and resorts rise to 82%, up by 6% over the same period in 2011, while those in city hotels climbed to 73%.

To help maintain that performance, the government has budgeted $500m in investments for tourism developments up to the end of 2013, mixing new hotel construction with other hospitality facilities and improved infrastructure. The emirate hopes to attract 1.2m visitors by 2013. In addition to state-backed investment, the government is working to attract further overseas capital. The Intercontinental Hotels Group is the latest to enter the RAK market, announcing it would open a 442-room Crowne Plaza RAK in 2015 with Kuwait-based Al Madina Real Estate Development.

While the sector is performing well and new developments are rolling off the drawing board, it can be difficult for a relatively small destination to make a major impact, particularly when local competition is fierce. According to Victor Louis, the COO of the RAK TDA, some of the smaller tourism destinations in the UAE, such as RAK, can at times be overshadowed by the profile of Dubai, an early entrant into the tourism sector and which has long focused on building up its brand in the market.

“There is a perception at the moment that you land in Dubai and you stay in Dubai,” Louis told a meeting of senior UAE tourism officials on September 24. “The problem is that Dubai started early and now the other emirates are following, each with their own branding exercises.” One option that Louis put forward was for the national government to do more to promote the UAE as a tourism destination as a whole, rather than each of the seven constituent emirates going their own way.

While a national approach to tourism promotion could see visitors spend time in each of the emirates, it may be difficult to sell the idea of a roaming holiday across the country, rather than one based around a single hotel or resort.

Though RAK has advocated a joint approach to tourism promotion, it is also determined to go its own way as well, turning to social media in an attempt to raise its profile. In early September, the RAK TDA unveiled a new iPhone and iPad application allowing subscribers to “try before you buy” through detailed information on the emirate’s hotels, resorts and restaurants, as well as other tourism information.

As well as looking to raise its profile through promotional activities, RAK is seeking to improve visitor access to the emirate by launching a domestic air service. The initial plan calls for four flights per week between RAK and Abu Dhabi, with the frequency shifting to daily flights by the end of this year and up to two per day by the end of the third quarter of 2013. With the flights taking just 45 minutes and costing $112 roundtrip, RAK Airways is targeting both business customers and holidaymakers.

Currently none of the other UAE-based airlines offer domestic services, meaning that the launch of RAK Airway’s new service in October will give it an edge over its rivals. The increase in tourism arrivals this year, along with the expected higher demand due to the new domestic flight schedule, has prompted the carrier to embark on a fleet expansion programme, with the airline looking to double its fleet by the end of 2012.

It will take some time to see if RAK Airways’ new domestic strategy takes off with travellers, though by offering a quick and easy link to and from the emirate, it could well take RAK to another level as a destination.

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