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Ras Al Khaimah: the UAE’s sustainable tourism destination

RAK Supplied
Rixos Bab al Bahr is all-inclusive beach resort in the UAE’s northern emirate
  • Northern emirate is focusing on sustainable tourism
  • Strategy to attract tourists seeking more affordable travel 
  • Hotel and resort openings include Mövenpick and Radisson brands

Early in 2022 US hotel operator Wynn Resorts announced it was partnering with the Ras Al Khaimah property developer Marjan and RAK Hospitality Holding to build a multibillion dollar integrated luxury resort in the northern emirate.

Critically, this includes a gaming area, a first for the UAE, which inevitably captured the headlines.

But RAK isn’t intent on solely marketing itself as the UAE’s version of Atlantic City.

It is part of a wider reimagining of RAK’s tourism offering, in which it aims to become a regional leader in sustainable tourism by 2025, targeting European and international tourists with beach holidays, cruises and more.

Boasting some of the wildest nature in the Arabian Peninsula, diversity is the watchword for Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).

Under the rubrik of Balanced Tourism, the emirate is placing sustainability at the centre of its investment, from environment and culture to conservation and liveability.

A series of hotel and resort openings in 2022 boosted the emirate’s inventory by 17 percent to reach over 8,000 keys, enabling it to welcome over 1 million visitors last year.

This is set to grow three-fold by 2030, when RAKTDA plans to welcome 3 million tourists a year. 

The Intercontinental Hotels Group, Mövenpick and Radisson brands entered the emirate for the first time in 2022, with the opening of the InterContinental Mina Al Arab, Mövenpick Resort Al Marjan Island and the Radisson Resort Ras Al Khaimah Marjan Island.

The Ritz Carlton’s seafood restaurant offers sand and sea views. Picture: Ritz Carlton

There are 19 upcoming properties, including global brands like Marriott, Millennium, Anantara and Sofitel, and 5,867 more keys in the pipeline over the next few years, a 70 percent increase on the current inventory. 

“The hospitality sector only makes up about 4% of GDP but will likely increase in proportion with new projects coming on stream over the next two years,” said Trevor Cullinan, lead analyst for sovereign ratings at S&P Global Ratings. 

Proximity to Dubai and its transport infrastructure, plus the affordability of Ras Al Khaimah, are important contributors in the development of tourism – along with the development of sustainable tourism and cultural restoration projects.

In 2022, 1.13 million tourists visited RAK, exceeding pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, and the greater part of domestic traffic comes from Dubai, with expats coming at the weekend in search of a destination at a slightly lower price point. 

Developers in RAK are eyeing this opportunity. Abdulla Al Abdouli, CEO of  Marjan, said the emirate creates an opportunity to cater to the growing segment of value-conscious travellers. 

Ali Manzoor, Middle Eastern region head of hospitality, hotels and tourism at consultancy CBRE, said: “The performance of RAK’s hotel market was among the more resilient over the pandemic, and if 2022 is any indication, it will continue to perform steadily in the short to medium term.”

RAK is looking outwards for future growth. Last year saw a 40 percent increase in international visitors, driven by a series of partnerships with airlines and tour operators targeting emerging and growing source markets. 

“Inbound demand has historically been led by visitors from Russia, Germany and the UK, and this demand base has been broadening over the past five years with increased representation from CIS countries,” said Manzoor. 

Typically these visitors stay for a week or two, encouraged in recent years by the conceptualisation of various compelling leisure anchors, he added.

Jabal Jais mountain, with its record-breaking zipline, is one example, serving as an attractive leisure destination for hotel guests, and stimulating day trips from domestic tourists outside of RAK. 

Ras Al KhaimahRas Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Jabal Jais mountain, with its zipline, is one of Ras Al Khaimah’s top leisure destinations. Picture: Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority

Benoy Kurien, group CEO of Al Hamra, which owns Al Hamra Golf Club, is among the local operators who see advantage in this increasingly diverse offering.

“With adventure and sports becoming an integral part of Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism development strategy, the emirate is increasingly attracting the attention of globetrotters looking for destinations that offer thrill-seeking activities and sporting events,” he said.

A string of sporting events are also helping to cement RAK’s position as a regional hub. These include the 15th RAK Half Marathon, the UAE Tour cycling and the DP World Tour golf championship.

In February the Ras Al Khaimah Championship takes place at Al Hamra Golf Club.