Ras Al Khaimah plans to attract 60,000 tourists on charter flights from Europe over the upcoming holiday season as the northernmost emirate invests heavily in new resorts.
RAK has joined hands with two charter flight companies in Europe to transport thousands of tourists to the emirate for the peak tourism season.
From October through next May, Sun Express, owned by the German tour operator FTI, could fly 40,000 tourists to RAK, while Poland’s Itaka Travel Agency could transport 20,000 tourists through charter flights.
“That is our premium peak period for us,” said Haitham Mattar, the chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA).
“Besides the charter flights, we do receive a high number of tourists that come through scheduled flights from Air Arabia into Sharjah and RAK, as well as Emirates airline into Dubai.”
From November, the authority would promote the emirate along with Dubai as part of a package tour with Emirates airline for Russians.
“We have seen a slowdown in the Russian market, but the diversity of the markets that we have has enabled us to grow and we have not lost on the [hotel] occupancy,” Mr Mattar said. “The potential growth markets are India, China and Turkey.”
The number of Russian tourists visiting the UAE has fallen this year because of Russia’s slowing economy, the declining rouble and the collapse of oil prices. In March, tourist arrivals from Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States countries at Dubai International Airport in the first quarter fell 31.7 per cent from the same period last year.
The spending of Russian tourists also declined in the first quarter, according to data from Network International, a payments processing firm in Dubai.
RAK TDA is expecting a 16 per cent rise in the number of tourists this year to 850,000, from 730,000 last year.
RAK expects to receive 1 million tourists in 2018. Working with the tourism authorities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, RAK TDA has created tour packages for stopovers in the emirate. Britain, Russia and Germany are among the top tourist source markets for RAK.
“It remains to be seen whether new hotel openings have managed to attract more arrivals from other origins, like the UK and Germany, which could potentially offset that reduction [of Russian tourists],” said Benjamin Young, an analyst at Standard and Poor’s.
Tourism currently makes up 2.5 per cent of RAK’s GDP, with the federal government providing funding for the emirate’s basic public services and infrastructure.
“We understand that key contributors to the federal budget, including Abu Dhabi’s contribution, will reduce this year as a reaction to lower oil revenues. In turn, we expect that this could translate into lower federal expenditures in Ras Al Khaimah,” said Mr Young.
The emirate is, however, gradually ramping up its tourism infrastructure.
RAK, which has 5,000 hotel rooms at 19 hotels, expects to increase the number of hotel rooms by 3,500 by 2019 across 12 hotels. That includes a 300-room Marriott resort that is expected to open in 2019 and a 250-room Anantara Mina Al Arab in 2018.
Most of the growth in the hotel sector is expected to take place along the coast. Beachfront properties will make up about 95 per cent of the hotels in RAK by 2019, up from the present 90 per cent.
Some hotels in the emirate’s city are also up for a revamp. The 475-room Hilton, which opened in 1992 as the emirate’s first five-star property and is owned by its government, will undergo renovation with government funds. The renovation is expected to take two years.
“So, they are still putting in the funds [in tourism despite the oil price fluctuations],” said Mr Mattar. “We haven’t seen a slowdown in the funding from the federal government.”
Last month, hotels in RAK reported an average occupancy rate of 67.3 per cent, up 21 per cent from the same period last year. Room revenues grew 13.3 per cent.
For the year so far, the hotel occupancy rate is 61.6 per cent, up 8.6 per cent from the same period last year.
Al Marjan Island is among the ongoing major tourism and real estate projects, and the island is expected to have 20 hotels by 2025, according to Mr Mattar.
The island presently has three hotels, with two under construction.
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