With recent record-breaking visitor numbers and a leading sporting destination, Raki Phillips, Chief Executive Officer, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority tells Gulf News how the emirate is booming in an exclusive interview.
Raki, the Ras Al Khaimah Championship has grown massively over recent years. How fantastic is it to be involved with the DP World Tour and this event here at Al Hamra Golf Club?
Sports and events are a key pillar of our continued growth, and it’s great to be welcoming back the DP World Tour to Al Hamra Golf Club this year.
In addition to putting Ras Al Khaimah on a global sporting stage, events like this also provides an opportunity for us to come together as a local community and improve the livability of Ras Al Khaimah, demonstrated by the huge success of the annual RAK Half Marathon, now in its 16th edition, which attracts over 5,000 participants and is supported by thousands of supporters every year.
Ras Al Khaimah also won the competitive bid to host the 2023 Minifootball World Cup in November 2022, beating Budapest and Manila to add the mega international football competition that attracts thousands of spectators and fans from around the globe to our growing roster.
How much has Ras Al Khaimah developed in recent years?
Ras Al Khaimah has become one of the fastest growing and most sought-after destinations in the Middle East, building a strong reputation as the adventure hub of the region.
Over the years, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has focused on enhancing our unique tourism proposition, building on our position as the Nature Emirate and creating a destination that appeals to a wide range of visitors.
In the past couple of years we have opened key new attractions such as Jais Sledder, which has welcomed over 130,000 visitors since it launched February 2022, the Bear Grylls Explorers Camp, with the first ever branded accommodation launched in 2021, and created the longest network of hiking trails in the UAE. We have also developed an ever-increasing portfolio of international hotel partners and have several new hotel brands in the pipeline which will bring the total number of rooms in the Emirate to over 12,000 in the next three years.
Additionally, we are continuously exploring ways to further increase the direct connectivity to Ras Al Khaimah and have recently announced a series of strategic partnerships with airlines and leading tour operators to target emerging and growing source markets. To further boost connectivity, the Authority is developing the Emirate’s burgeoning cruise sector with three cruise calls in December, welcoming over 2,500 passengers and crew. It is our goal to attract 50 cruise ship calls each season, and over 10,000 passengers within the next few years.
What is there to do in RAK that tourists may not know? Any particluar hidden gems?
Known as the Nature Emirate, Ras Al Khaimah has a huge and diverse range of offerings to be explored for visitors of all ages - from pristine beaches, lush mangroves and terracotta desert dunes to a wide range of adventures awaiting at Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain peak. We were recently included in Time magazine's World's Greatest Places of 2022 and CNN Travel’s best destinations to visit in 2023 due to our unrivalled adventure offerings and stunning, unique topography and geodiversity.
In addition to our reputation as the adventure hub of the region, thanks to our world-class attractions at Jebel Jais, including our ziplines, extensive network of hiking trails and Bear Grylls Explorers Camp, Ras Al Khaimah also boasts a rich heritage with over 7,000 of history. We have the highest number of forts in the UAE and four of our sites have been included in UNESCO’s tentative list of heritage sites and the Emirate is also home to the UAE’s only traditional pearl farm, Suwaidi Pearls. For a truly immersive experience, Camp 1770 offers overnight camp experiences, with a meal cooked by the local mountain tribe, and the Al Wadi Nature Reserve gives visitors the chance to experience our unique terracotta desert and encounter local wildlife. We have also just launched hot air balloon flights, the first in the Northern Emirates, providing a great bird’s eye view of our stunning landscapes.
What are the current visitor figures of people coming to the emirate?
We welcomed our highest ever annual visitor numbers last year, with over 1.13 million overnight - a total increase of 15.6% vs 2021. The results exceed pre-pandemic levels indicating recovery and resilience in a volatile year.
These record-breaking visitor numbers were bolstered thanks to our position as a leading sporting destination, with over 50 events hosted. Highlights included the 15th RAK Half Marathon, 23rd Annual Gumball 3000 rally, the first-ever Middle East route for the world-renowned supercar rally, the UAE Tour cycling and of course the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship. These sporting highlights provide opportunities to showcase Ras Al Khaimah as a leading nature, adventure and sporting destination to the thousands of spectators that come to the Emirate to enjoy these events and the many thousands more who tune in to watch the biggest names compete. In 2022, global sports events held in Ras Al Khaimah were televised in more than 180 countries.