This month, the government of Ras al Khaimah has launched two tourism initiatives designed in the short-term to boost the industry and in the long-term to attract more foreign investment to all sectors.
On August 19, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince of Ras al Khaimah, inaugurated WOW RAK, a Dh850m ($231m) entertainment development, which will include two theme parks covering 120 acres (485,623 sq metres) in the Khor Qurm area of Ras al Khaimah.
"The project would contribute to the comprehensive development boom currently taking place in RAK and would boost the tourism facilities available in the emirate," said Sheikh Saud at a press conference for the project.
Managing the development is Polo RAK Amusements, a joint venture led by Indian-based Polo Amusement Parks Limited and Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) with RAK Properties.
As the name suggests, WOW RAK will push the limits of theme park engineering. It will build the world's largest man-made waterfall, along with five themed zones, including a mountain park - complete with snow - and underwater rollercoaster rides.
Ras al Khaimah's second major tourism announcement happened one week earlier on August 12 when the government officially incorporated RAKEEN Development, which will build one of Ras al Khaimah's largest tourism projects to date.
The company's main responsibility is managing the Dh10bn ($2.73bn) Marjan Islands project, which will cover 1.95m sq metres on the coastline of Ras al Khaimah with up to 21 five star hotels and 7000 rooms when the project is completed in 2010. Also in RAKEEN's young portfolio is a 3000-4000 room exhibition and convention centre along with 50,000 sq metre shopping centre.
WOW RAK and Marjan Islands join a long list of tourism projects that Ras al Khaimah has announced in the past three years. Already under development are the Dh10bn ($2.73bn) Mina al Arab, the Dh5.5bn ($1.5bn) Saraya Islands, the Dh300m ($81.69m) al Hamra Palace Hotel, and the Dh221m ($60.2m) Cove resort. These projects will create over 25 new hotels and almost 10,000 more hotel rooms in RAK, up from 6 hotels and 749 rooms in 2003.
The aim of the government, however, isn't exclusively on bringing people for just short stays. Ras al Khaimah hopes to grab the world's attention with unique hotels, theme park attractions and warm weather in the winter months and then use that as a launching point for attracting more permanent residents and businesses.
Almost all the announced projects will be mixed-use developments, which, in addition to hotel rooms, incorporate residential components - such as luxury villas and apartments - or lifestyle facilities - such as malls, cinemas and golf courses.
The government of Ras al Khaimah admits that one of the major obstacles, so far, to attracting foreign investment to the emirate is the lack of leisure activities for expatriates, a component that international companies consistently rate as important to their decision to sending their employees to live and work abroad.
To improve the living situation, Ras al Khaimah became one of a few emirates to pass legislation allowing expatriates to own freehold properties in certain developments.
With the prospect of full ownership, cheaper land and lifestyle projects in the pipeline, Ras al Khaimah thinks that it offers a very competitive package for arousing the interest of prospective expatriate employees.
And so far, some companies agree. Since 2003, Ras al Khaimah has seen significant commitments in tourism from foreign entities such as Orascom (The Cove), Saudi Oger (Saraya Islands), Hilton and Polo Amusements; but there have also been notable investments in industry (Swiss-based Falcon Technology), education (George Mason University) and healthcare (Methodist Hospital in Houston).
The government sees the tourism industry as fuel to energise other projects. As Khater Massad, CEO of RAKIA, said about WOW RAK, "The project is strategically located near the upcoming mega property developments like al Marjan Island, al Hamra Village and Mina Al Arab."
By linking tourism to the further diversification of its economy, Ras al Khaimah is hoping to provide investment opportunities that can stand up to other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) offerings. But with Dubai's 28,000 rooms and 7m tourists just down the road, Ras al Khaimah is going to have to maintain its aggressive stance to development if it wants to stand out in Gulf tourism.