RAS AL KHAIMAH – ADVENTURE TOURISM
RAKTDA CEO lays out plan to score big with activity and authenticity seekers
As 18-34-year-old travelers emerge as a demanding, yet rewarding, demographics which vacations more than twice a year, the rapidly developing adventure tourism product portfolio of Ras Al Khaimah, now established as one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in the Middle East, is shaping up as a millennials magnet.
Addressing a BBC panel debate on the travel patterns of affluent millennials, held in London to coincide with the World Travel Market (WTM), Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), said the emirate was hitting the mark with the much sought-after segment.
“Ras Al Khaimah has what it takes when it comes to ticking millennial boxes,” said Mattar. “They want authenticity and the emirate has it in spades; they want meaningful, off-the-radar experiences and the ability to connect with culture, which again we excel in; and they have a desire to soak up natural sights, which is a key pillar of our offering.”
Mattar revealed millennials are now a prime target for the emirate, which boasts an ancient heritage and a myriad of landscapes from desert to stunning coastline, and the awe-inspiring rocky crags of the Hajar mountains with its natural springs and the UAE’s highest peak Jebel Jais, now ranked by TripAdvisor as the emirate’s number one attraction with 88% of reviewers ranking it “excellent” or “very good.”
“There’s no doubt that millennial travelers played a role in pushing UK arrivals to the emirate up by almost 17% in the first nine months of this year – it’s a growth trajectory we anticipate will continue given the response we are receiving from our WTM promotion from British adventure holiday promoters. Millennials as a grouping will help us achieve our target of a million visitors by the end of next year and our focus on adventure activity will help pull them in,” said Mattar.
RAKTDA, which develops and regulates the emirate’s tourism infrastructure and initiates its domestic and overseas promotions is making the most of the emirate’s natural assets. Just over a year ago it launched the Middle East’s only commercial Via Ferrata (Iron Path) which sees the intrepid climb, trek, and zip line their way through the towering rocky gauges of Jebel Jais. Next up for Jebel Jais is the opening of the world’s longest zip Line, a multi-purpose viewing deck, a luxury mountain camp, as well as the rollout of official cycling and hiking routes.
RAKTDA’s investment has already seen the emirate snapped up for inclusion in specialist holiday companies from the UAE’s own Absolute Adventures to the UK’s The Holiday Place. The emirate has also been named ‘The UAE’s New Holiday Hotspot’ by Britain’s national daily newspaper The Express and was selected as the UAE headquarters of Challenging Adventure, the British-owned outdoor adventure center which operates activities for schools, corporates, families, and adult groups.
“We believe the millennial factor will not only win us more vacationers but that it will go some way to entice investors into the emirate which has the space and ideal surroundings for signature mountain retreats and activities,” explained Mattar.
“The industry recognizes that this group is no longer low-yield backpackers, but increasingly affluent and informed travelers who have a propensity to vacation in destinations which respect the environment and their own local culture – Ras Al Khaimah does just that.”
As a sponsor of the 2017 UNWTO’s campaign for ‘The Year of Sustainable Tourism’, and Vice Chair of the UNWTO Board of Affiliate Members, Ras Al Khaimah is making a strong commitment to sustainability in its own tourism strategy. “This commitment will see us protect and conserve our assets in a sustainable way and achieve targets for visitor arrivals, employment creation, and GDP contribution,” explained Mattar. An example of some if the sustainable tourism initiatives spear-headed by the emirate is the waste management policy whereby RAKTDA has mandated all hotel establishments to reduce their waste in line with the government set targets for waste reduction.
With international tourism arrivals to the emirate rising 9% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2017, Ras Al Khaimah is on course to reach its target of 900,000 visitors by the year-end. “We are also optimistic about attaining our goal of a million visitors by the end of next year and 2.9 million by the end of 2025,” said Mattar. “Our focus will be on three key tourist segments beyond the traditional leisure market seeking sun and sand, namely active adventurers, cultural explorers and luxury indulgence and wellness seekers.
“As we draw closer to reaching these targets, the need for quality hotel rooms has never been so important. We are working closely with travel and tourism stakeholders to ensure we attract the right brands and accommodation options to support sustainable growth across the emirate,” added Mattar.
Currently offering just over 5,000 hotel rooms, Ras Al Khaimah’s increasing hotel and resort portfolio is expected to grow by more than 4,000 rooms by 2020.