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Lights, camera, action: RAK seeks leading role in film tourism

RAK film tourism Shutterstock
It is hoped that the film industry can boost tourism to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK)

The UAE is no stranger to the silver screen, whether it be Tom Cruise dangling perilously from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible blockbuster Ghost Protocol, or Vin Diesel powering his $3 million supercar from one Etihad Tower in Abu Dhabi to the next in the seventh iteration of the Fast and Furious franchise.

Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is now looking to get in on the act, as it bids to capitalise on the multi-billion-dollar film tourism industry.

The total value of the global film tourism market is expected to reach $125 billion by 2030, according to figures from research outlet Reports and Insights.

“We are committed to exploring how the film industry can contribute to boosting tourism in our emirate,” says RAK Tourism Development Authority chief executive, Raki Phillips.

RAK has already flirted with the stars. 

The emirate’s historical sites include ruins and forts that date back to the Bronze Age, four of which – Julfar, Shimal, Dhayah and Al Jazeera Al Hamraare – are recognised in Unesco’s tentative list of Global Heritage Sites. 

Al Jazirah Al Hamra, the last-surviving pearl fishing village of its kind in the Arabian Gulf, was a filming location for two Netflix movies, War Machine starring Brad Pitt and the Michael Bay-directed 6 Underground starring Ryan Reynolds.

“RAK’s terracotta desert is home to the Al Wadi Nature Reserve with stunning views, offering audiences a glimpse into the desert wildlife wandering around the destination,” Phillips adds.

Dhayah Fort is a heritage attraction in the wadis of RAKShutterstock
Dhayah Fort is a heritage attraction in the wadis of RAK

Film tourism has become increasingly popular in recent years as more and more people seek out travel experiences that are inspired by their favourite movies and TV shows.

A study from PhotoAid in the US, a technology startup developing AI tools for taking biometric photos, revealed 96 percent of respondents have visited filming locations linked to their favourite television shows or movies at least once.

Vincenzo Zappino, an expert in cultural and tourism development and urban policies, says that although film tourism has been around for decades, it remains a “niche market”. 

“You don’t develop this product for mass tourism. You should consider it to other complimentary tourist products that are being developed in the destination,” he says.

RAK has previously branded itself as the “Nature Emirate”, given its varied topography, from the highest mountain in the UAE in Jebel Jais, through to its seas, beaches and deserts, as well as history and culture stretching back 7,000 years.

Brad Pitt filmed some scenes from the film War Machine in the fishing village Al Jazirah Al HamraWam
Brad Pitt filmed some scenes from the film War Machine in Al Jazirah Al Hamra

“In the long term, film-induced tourism has the potential to reshape a destination’s image and heighten interest from travellers,” says Dr Sean Lochrie, associate professor at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.

Outside of the UAE, Jordan has been a firm favourite with Hollywood film directors for decades. 

The timeless charm of Wadi Rum has often featured, from the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia through to the 2019 remake of Disney’s Aladdin.

Harrison Ford helped put Petra firmly on the map in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Abu Dhabi offers a 30 percent rebate to film producers to use the emirate as a location for filming. Phillips revealed that RAK is currently looking into developing an incentive programme to attract more film productions to the emirate.

RAK launched its Media Free Zone and Film City in 2006, which has opened doors for filmmakers and media professionals to relocate from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Mariam Mahmooth, senior director for Mena region at Colliers for development advisory, says: “Boasting lower costs and compelling incentives, this vibrant platform offers an opportunity to harness Ras Al Khaimah’s cinematic landscapes while maximising investments.”

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