Some destinations need no introduction. Ras Al Khaimah might soon become one of them, but for now it might be helpful to know that we’re talking about one of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE. The name itself is an Arabic term for the “top of the tent”, and if you check out the shape on the map, it’s located in the pointy bit near Dubai that looks just like the top of a tent. If it’s not a place you feel familiar with, read on, because recently paid a visit to see a number of hotels which have already established a foothold in what is a fascinating destination: Jannah Villas, The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi, Waldorf Astoria, and Rixos Bab Al Bahr. We also had the pleasure of talking to Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority CEO, Haitham Mattar, about the region’s potential.

If you could give us a SWOT analysis for Ras Al Khaimah, how would it look?

I think one of our greatest strengths is our natural assets – we have 64 km of pristine beaches, the spectacular Hajar Mountains including Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest peak at 1934 m above sea level, and an untouched desert landscape. Effectively utilizing these natural assets in a sustainable way marks a real opportunity for us to attract strategically important tourist groups – namely active adventurers, cultural explorers, and luxury and wellness seekers. These groups are fundamental to our destination strategy and aim of attracting 1 million tourists to Ras Al Khaimah by the end of 2018.  

Of course, ambitious growth comes with its challenges and for us perhaps an area of weakness, or more aptly a threat, is the need for more hotel rooms to meet our growing visitor numbers – up 19% in 2017. We have plans to grow our current hotel portfolio from just over 5,400 rooms to more than 10,000 by the end of 2020 and as we grow ever closer to reaching our visitor targets the need for quality hotel accommodation has never been so important. One of my big areas of focus is working closely with travel and tourism stakeholders to attract the right brands and accommodation options to support sustainable growth across the Emirate.

What is the brand positioning for Ras Al Khaimah?

Ras Al Khaimah is something of a hidden gem and offers an authentic and accessible Arabian experience with its unique mix of old-world culture and modern vibrancy. We are the region’s most diverse destination with a combination of amazing beaches, rugged mountains, luxury resorts, and desert wilderness camps. We’re in easy reach of Dubai Airport, just 45 minutes away – yet a world away with amazing experiences and adventures for all travelers.  

We are also increasingly becoming known as the ‘Adventure Emirate’ in the UAE with the growth of our adventure tourism product on Jebel Jais including the Via Ferrata climbing and hiking routes and Jebel Jais Flight – the World’s Longest Zipline at 2.83 km.  

Ras Al Khaimah isn’t particularly well known in other Asian countries, so how are you going to promote the destination to Asians? What is the strategy for Ras Al Khaimah to grow in Asia?

Increasing the number of visitors from international markets is an important part of our destination growth strategy. In Asia we continue to look at strategic partnerships and agreements with in-market tour operators to strengthen our position as well as investing in country marketing to showcase the breadth on offer in Ras Al Khaimah for our key tourism segments.

What’s the aviation plan? Will we see more direct flights from Asia? And will there be more low-cost airlines flying in?

Ras Al Khaimah receives the majority of its visitors via Dubai Airport which is directly connected to hundreds of cities across the globe by a wide variety of international carriers.

From my experience, one of Ras Al Khaimah’s strengths is its low-key laid-back appeal in comparison to its neighbors. If it develops, will it lose that and simply become another Dubai?

Our focus is on sustainable development and with our breadth of natural assets I think we will always have something very different from Dubai, but equally that perfectly complements a visit there. Visitors from Asia come to Dubai for a cosmopolitan city experience and in just 45 minutes from DXB airport they can also escape to Ras Al Khaimah to relax on the beach, experience our old-world culture and enjoy unique adventures in the mountains.  

As an investor, why should I invest in Ras Al Khaimah? Is there a unique offer that investors won’t get anywhere else?

Ras Al Khaimah is one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations. Last year tourism arrivals to the Emirate rose 19% year-on-year and we are optimistic about reaching our goal of a million visitors by the end of 2018 and 2.9 million by the end of 2025. I mentioned earlier that we will need 10,000 rooms by the end of 2020 so this marks a great opportunity for investors who want to join us on our journey of sustainable growth and be part of a destination that is committed to innovating with a product that meets the needs and desires of key tourist segments in the global market.