Ras Al Khaimah is taking measures to spur growth by developing tourism and other non-oil sector and believes it will benefit from tourism expansion in any other emirate, its ruler was quoted on Sunday as saying.
“I don’t feel there is competition between the emirates. Dubai is benefiting from Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi is benefitting from Dubai. The growth of Dubai for me represents an opportunity,” HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi told the Dubai-based Arabian Business magazine in an interview.
Qassimi put real growth in RAK, which provides almost 15 per cent of the UAE’s total GDP, at around eight per cent in 2011 and expected even better performance this year.
“I’m optimistic for the future. The growth in GDP for RAK was eight percent last year, and I hope we’ll have the same figure this year, if not better. We have also seen a growth in business registration by more than 25 percent. This is an indicator of growth, and I think this figure will stay the same in 2012.”
Sheikh Saud, who was interviewed in April, said the government has already taken several steps to boost investment including the launch of large industrial parks and the opening of its freezone, the construction of a maritime city and the development of its ports. In the coming months and years, it will continue to review the business environment, he said.
“We’re trying to increase transparency. We are reviewing our practices on a continuous basis and how to simplify them. We are also looking at how to improve our IT systems to make them more accessible, and how to improve our processes to make them more investment-friendly.”
He said the northern emirate has also taken steps to raise the number of visitors, with the establishment in May of a Tourism Investment and Development Authority (TIDA) to help investors, and a government-owned hospitality management company to take care of state-backed leisure developments.Sheikh Saud says RAK would continue to “maximise its best assets.
“What we are trying to do is focus on our competitive advantage. Our economic development depends on the choices that we have. It is evident we have been successful in attracting industry, as we have world-class brands that have grown out of RAK and that have come here. But we also have good hotel occupancy now, and this supports our strategy to develop tourism even further.”
According to recent government figures, 2011 was a particularly strong year for RAK’s tourism market, despite the current political turmoil in the region.
Data from the emirate’s TIDA showed as many as 835,200 holiday-makers visited the city and its surroundings during the twelve-month period, marking an increase of 40 percent upon the year before, and pushing revenues up by more than a third to Dh400 million.
The rise in numbers, which set a new record for the emirate, was mostly due to a surge in German tourists by nearly 200 percent since 2010. Other key source markets were Russia, the UK, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
“Tourism plays a major role in our strategy and in the development of our emirate,” Sheikh Saud said.
“Through history, RAK has been a destination for other Emiratis to come for the summer, so it’s not unnatural for us to focus on tourism.”
He said the big challenge today is to increase the number of hotel rooms to meet the high demand among holiday-makers.
“At the moment, our challenge is to build more hotel rooms. Our target is to reach 10,000 rooms by 2016. I am also hopeful that we will reach more than one million visitors in 2012,” he told the magazine.
“As for the economy, it will encourage more investors to come and join in with the tourism development, giving us more hotels and other projects. Each investor will define what is feasible, and we will be there to assist them in being successful.”
Sheikh Saud said New brands who have already signed deals to build in RAK include the luxury Waldorf Astoria by Hilton, which is set to open a hotel on Al Marjan Island in October 2012, and Bab Al Bahr, which is opening a beach resort in RAK later this year.
Hilton Worldwide will also add RAK's second Doubletree resort in 2014.
“The real estate price is a function of supply and demand, and of course as you have more demand, the price usually goes up. I believe a major investment like this will increase demand, because people will know more about RAK,” he said.
“Infrastructure in the emirate will be developed in line with the growth but only where it is economically viable and needed. The biggest projects coming up are the inter-emirate road and railway links, which will be particularly beneficial in connecting RAK with the rest of the country.”
He said the infrastructure improvements are already under way, adding that the federal government is assisting the emirate.
“We’re not working as if we are an island, we are working alongside other emirates. We would like RAK to contribute to the growth of the wider UAE.The upgrade of the inter-emirates highway, for example, will soon be extending to RAK, and the first phase of the Etihad Rail project is also making progress, which has huge potential for cargo. If we could ship all our cargo via the rail network, it would reduce traffic on our roads. We have more cargo in RAK because we have more industry.”