Jonas Vingegaard wins Stage 5 of the UAE Tour at Jebel Jais
More to Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah than just the view. The emirate has been packing in adventure pursuits to add to all the other natural attractions. Pictured here is Jonas Vingegaard winning Stage 5 of the UAE Tour at Jebel Jais. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: How quickly will tourists make a return to the UAE?

Ras Al Khaimah, which in recent years has emerged as a favoured spot for sun and sand seekers, reckons they will be back in the second-half of this year. “I'm cautiously optimistic we will start seeing a wider recovery from markets such as Europe and GCC that we rely heavily on,” said Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).

“As we close off the year, we'll end up performing better - but true recovery isn't going to come for a couple of years.”

Any short-term opening up of international markets is good news for the emirate. “Our business is primarily a 60-40 mix (60 per cent International visitors),” said Phillips. “Since the airports all closed down, we became a 90 per cent domestic market.”

Won’t be easy

But each fresh lockdown measure imposed somewhere in the world, and especially in Europe, delays tourism recovery prospects. But Ras Al Khaimah is putting in all those additional features that will come handy once travel and flights head back to normal.

The emirate recently launched a Bear Grylls Explorers Camp in the Jebel Jais mountains. In fact, right from the resumption of flights last year, it has been looking to boost numbers by offering staycation packages and focusing on adventure travel.

Raki Phillips, RAKTDA CEO
Raki Phillips, RAKTDA CEO, is a firm believer in the targetted approach to source new visitors to the emirate.

Building networks

“We've started to welcome international tourists – during the fourth quarter of last year, we had the team ready in all the different markets,” said Phillips. “We have put a lot of our focus on the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), including Russia.”

Recently, SCAT Airlines said it would operate eight flights per week between Ras Al Khaimah and eight cities in Kazakhstan. These destinations are Almaty, Aktau, Aktobe, Atyrau, Karaganda, Oral, Nur Sultan and Shymkent.

Providing another access point for visitors to the country is necessary to “increase the emirate’s economic diversification, with tourism being a central component,” said Salem Al-Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Civil Aviation and Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, in a statement.

India is a lucrative market as well with SpiceJet bringing in tourists to the northern emirate from New Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, and Amritsar.

Reaching out

These decisions are not made arbitrarily – there is a method. The emirate has a “targeted” approach when it comes to forging aviation agreements.

“We see what market is interested in traveling to the destination, and at what frequency they would be able to travel,” said Phillips. “The closer we are to a destination, the more attractive it is and the more volumes you can get.

“Then we go out and start negotiating deals. We are in numerous discussions with various airlines, both commercially and from a charter perspective and have a very targeted approach on which markets we really want to go after.”