jebel jais ras al khaiman
The world's longest zipline in Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah. Image Credit: File photo

Dubai: With over one million visitors in its sights for 2018, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has unveiled its tourism strategy for the next three years, including an increased focus on cultural and adventure travel.

Following a year in which the emirate made headlines for introducing the world’s longest zipline, RAK tourism officials have said they wish to continue developing the destination’s historical and cultural offering, while targeting northern and eastern European tourists.

“This strategy will likely create 10,000 jobs by 2021 in RAK… and we are currently working with RAK Bank on a vehicle to invest in Emirati’s tourist products that are supported by business plans,” said Haitham Mattar, CEO of the RAK Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) in an exclusive interview.

Tourism currently contributes five per cent to RAK’s gross domestic product. The emirate aims to grow that to 10 per cent by 2025.

Three years ago, the emirate set a target of achieving one million visitors by the end of 2018, which Mattar said RAK would surpass.

The official added that the emirate was looking to grow that number to 1.5 million over the next three years, and by 2025 Mattar said he was hopeful of attracting three million tourists to RAK.

In a strategy document shared with the public and private sectors on Tuesday, RAKTDA outlined a strategy to nurture its existing inbound markets such as the UK, Germany, and Russia, while continuing to invest in growth markets such as Scandinavia and eastern Europe.

The authority is set to open an office next year in the Czech Republic, which it said will service new markets such as Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic itself.

The emirate said it will try to cater to a growing demand for experiential travel, a catch-all term used to describe more adventurous tourism.

“We’re going to open our first ever luxury camp in the mountains… we’re currently in talks with three operators,” he said.

The camp, set to open in 2020 on Jebel Jais, is aimed at capturing travellers who are looking for a slightly cooler experience: The temperature on the mountain is typically 10 degrees Celsius colder than Dubai.

Pivoting from a beach destination to a place for more active tourists has paid dividends: The emirate has seen an annual average tourist growth of 12 per cent for the past three years.

Mattar said that over the next three years, the emirate would cement this change in direction, further developing its offering of Bronze Age historical sites, canyoning, bedouin visits, and farm tours.

In order to accommodate the projected increase in visitors, the official said the emirate would require thousands more hotel rooms.

“Today we have 6,300 rooms — that’s up 1,500 rooms from three years ago. We currently have 5,000 rooms in the pipeline between now and 2021,” Mattar said.

“This will give us 11,000 rooms, which are sufficient for 1.5 million visitors,” he added.

If the emirate is to achieve its target of three million tourists by 2025, Mattar said RAK would need a total of 20,000 rooms.