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The small surprising wonders of Ajman and Umm Al Quwain

Umm Al Quwain Unsplash/Salman Sidheek
Umm Al Quwain is known for its natural attractions such mangroves, and its lower cost of living
  • Ajman’s hotels had the highest occupancy level in the UAE in 2021
  • Umm Al Quwain investments include tourism, logistics and industries

Last December Ajman ruler Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi approved the emirate’s budget for 2023.

The AED2.92 billion ($795 million) in spending plans marked a 21 percent year-on-year increase, and the largest in the emirate’s history.

And on UAE National Day last year, Abdullah Ahmed Al Hamrani, director general of the Ajman Department of Economic Development, said the number of business licences issued had grown by 24 percent compared to 2021.

Such figures suggest a healthy economic environment, helped by growth across the UAE as a whole. The IMF estimates the UAE’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 5.1 percent in 2022 and predicts 4.2 percent growth in 2023.

While most economic activity continues to be centred on Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the northern emirates have quietly built up a range of industries. Ras Al Khaimah, for example, has developed strong industrial and tourism sectors, while Fujairah has a thriving maritime industry. 

It can be harder for the smallest emirates to stand out, but even Ajman has a relatively diversified economy, with around 19 percent of its GDP coming from manufacturing activities according to according to the Ajman Department of Economic Development – higher than the federal-wide level of 12 percent.

The Ajman Free Zone hosts a broad spread of companies active in sectors ranging from education to packaging, agriculture and oil and gas. But the search for new avenues of growth is continuous, with tourism among the target sectors.

Waterfront, Water, OutdoorsUnsplash.com/Dovi
Ajman has a growing inventory of hotels and resorts focusing on wellness, cultural and adventure tourism. Picture: Unsplash/Dovi

Ravi Santiago, cluster general manager of Wyndham Hotels Ajman, said there had been major improvements in the tourism industry in recent years. 

“The fact that Ajman is a land of virgin beaches and provides an escape from the city life, makes it one of the most sought-after destinations in the northern emirates,” he said, adding Ajman’s hotels had the highest occupancy level in the UAE in 2021.

“The increasing inventory of hotels and resorts focusing on wellness tourism, cultural tourism and adventure tourism proves that Ajman’s tourism industry is taking a lead in the northern emirates,” he added.

Umm Al Quwain tourism and industry

Among the planned developments in the small emirate of Umm Al Quwain is a tourism resort on Al Sinniyah island. Progress on this project has been slow, but a bridge is currently being built linking the island to the main E11 highway.

Further up the coast in Umm Al Quwain, the authorities are also keen to diversify the economy by attracting more tourists. Environmental causes are a key part of this, with the government trying to ensure any tourism schemes are implemented in a way that is sustainably viable.

In September the authorities opened a Sustainable Blue Economy Office. The emirate’s authorities say 20 percent of the emirate’s land area will be allocated to natural reserves by 2031 and it is developing three carbon-neutral areas, including a heritage district, the corniche and the mangroves area.

The Umm Al Quwain authorities say 20 percent of the emirate’s land area will be allocated to natural reserves by 2031, including a heritage district. Picture: Unsplash/Richard Mortel

Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology chairman Sheikh Majid Bin Saud Bin Rashid Al Mualla said the wider aim was to double the emirate’s GDP by 2031, with ‘blue economy’ activities accounting for 40 percent of the total.

Johnson George, general manager of the Umm Al Quwain Free Zone, cites tourism as one of the main investment hotspots at the moment, alongside logistics, industries, mid-end real estate and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  

“Industries, SMEs, traders and consultants constitute a significant majority of our investor community,” he said.

“We are developing 2 million sq m of industrial land with the lowest operating and warehousing costs, making us a great choice for SMEs as well as large industries.”

One of the main challenges facing these smaller emirates is to find ways to stand out amid all the noise created by Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Their small size does, though, mean they have some attractive characteristics.

“Umm Al Quwain’s main strength is its small and stable economy, which allows for easy, efficient, and cost-effective business operations,” said George. “The emirate is also known for its low cost of living and its friendly business environment.”

Ajman and Umm Al Quwain combine a relaxed atmosphere while continuing to lean on the country’s commercial hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. National Bank of Umm Al Quwain’s main market, for example, is Dubai, and the northern emirates can boast proximity to some of the world’s busiest international airports.

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