Many adventurers in the UAE know Ras Al Khaimah as the home of Jebel Jais, the tallest peak in the UAE.
The mountain has grown to be a popular destination for both local and international tourists, especially in the cool winter months, when there is a chance of witnessing the light snowfall at the top of the peak. Hospitality experts in the emirate, however, are quick to point out that the destination has lots to offer besides its 'small miracle in the desert'.
The emirate's hospitality industry recently recorded a stellar performance in 2016 outperforming the wider UAE and other regional markets, thanks to a combination of its newly launched attractions and tourism packages aimed at international travellers.
"Ras Al Khaimah continues to represent a desirable destination for international travellers, and through the efforts of our own initiatives, working with target market partners and developing new attractions such as Jebel Jais Via Ferrata, we remain at the front of mind when choosing holidays," said Haitham Mattar, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).
"Last year's visitor numbers are reflective of our success to promote Ras Al Khaimah as an all-year-round destination that offers more than just sun, sea and sand. During 2016, we welcomed 11 per cent more people to the emirate than in 2015. The emirate's hotels registered a 10 per cent increase in occupancy throughout 2016, and lengthened overnight stays to 3.32 days from last year's 3.19 during the same period."
According to CBRE's Ras Al Khaimah MarketView analysis for Q4 2016, the emirate's hospitality market maintained positive growth into the final quarter, recording an average occupancy rate of over 73 per cent during the final three months of the year. Approximately 821,000 tourist arrivals were recorded in 2016, compared to the 740,000 in 2015. In addition, 59 per cent of hotel guests were international tourists from a number of key markets.
"The core international markets of Germany, UK, Russia and India registered double-digit growth last year and continue to be an important source for visitors to the emirate. Supporting this growth, we also recorded significant increases from emerging markets such as Kazakhstan, Scandinavia and the Czech Republic, all of which we are carefully monitoring and working to sustain over the coming years. Ahead of further tourism products that will be launched later this year, Ras Al Khaimah is in a solid position to achieve its goal of achieving one million visitors by the end of 2018," Mattar said.
The RAKTDA is not the only entity pleased with the results of last year's performance. Several hotel operators have also expressed satisfaction and delight at the increase in visitor numbers.
"Over the past few years, we have seen Ras Al Khaimah grow into a favoured tourism destination - not only for UAE residents, but also for international visitors," said Mahmoud Mokhtar, country manager for Ras Al Khaimah at Hilton. "Hilton has played an integral role in the development of Ras Al Khaimah as a destination, having been one of the first to spot its potential as a tourist destination, with a strong presence in the emirate since 2001."
He added: "We are now the standout operator in the market with six hotels comprising more than 2,500 rooms, and a range of brands from the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah through to the upcoming Hilton Garden Inn Ras Al Khaimah which is set to open later this year and is our first mid-market property in the emirate. We look forward to seeing the emirate's tourism industry continue to grow, particularly given the RAKTDA's Destination Ras Al Khaimah 2019 strategy which aims to attract one million visitors by the end of 2018."
The RAKTDA also revealed that in addition to the continual development of attractions and tourism offerings, the emirate has welcomed a number of new hotel properties and accommodation options. It also has plans to encourage further hotels to establish a presence in Ras Al Khaimah and have the overall portfolio reach 20,000 rooms by 2025.
Towards that end, Amit Arora, GM at Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah, a Ritz-Carlton Partner Hotel, said: "We are delighted to enter the market at such an optimal time for Ras Al Khaimah, while the emirate is growing and developing tourism. We look forward to being part of the ambitious plans for the emirate."