Haitham Mattar

Haitham Mattar

The CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority talks to Travel Daily Middle East about Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism opportunities, new growth areas and the plan ahead…

The CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority talks to Travel Daily Middle East about Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism opportunities, new growth areas and the plan ahead…

Haitham Mattar, chief executive officer, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Haitham Mattar, chief executive officer, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority

The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has witnessed a lot of new developments. The tourism authority is now looking at what tourist need and how that need can be converted into tourist infrastructure.


The year has panned out very positively for Ras Al Khaimah. As per audited numbers, we have witnessed amazing growth in occupancies, RevPARs and average rate. The overall growth in tourist numbers has been very encouraging, which is a 10% growth over last year. In 2014, we recorded 730,000 visitors and we are already charting a 10% growth in the first half of 2015. We are all aware that the second half of the year is peak for UAE which starts from October to December. We are looking on capitalising on this period further by strongly focusing on the third and fourth quarter.

We see a healthy forecast from hotels. In terms of our source markets, there is a huge diversity which has helped us sustain our growth and also continue to grow at a healthy pace.

In terms of overall market performance, the decline we saw from Russia was very much in line with what has happened across the region. We have not seen anything surprising. Our advantage however was tremendous growth from the GCC market which is about 51% over last year. Saudi has been a keen contributor with 29% growth.

The Chinese market has also become a new focus and once tapped, we have witnessed a growth of 125% over last year. We are aware that this sounds like big growth, but we come from a very low base and there is advantage in the pace of growth. This is very promising.

India has become a key focus. The market has shown a growth of 81% and we are focusing our efforts on continuing this growth.


In terms of our top performing markets, we have Germany, Russia (despite the decline) and the UK. Russia has held a very big position here in Ras Al Khaimah and despite the decline, it has not lost its position. We are working on diversifying our source markets so we are tapping more aggressively into India and China. We also see big potential in Kazakhstan. These markets will help us sustain our growth well unto the end of the year and even in 2016.


We are looking to nurture some markets where we are strong such as Germany, UK, Russia but also continue our efforts to grow India, China and Kazakhstan. We will also focus our efforts on developing routes with Turkey and Iran. In the GCC, the focus would be Saudi Arabia along with the other regions. We look to drive these markets in not just our marketing campaigns but also developing the right products.

We have seen substantial growth coming into our luxury brands such as the Waldorf Astoria from the Saudis. Overall, Ras Al Khaimah has witnessed growth from families. The emirate has become a family-friendly destination and the product is strongly geared toward this segment.


Just going back in history, we have to acknowledge the natural lay of the land which allows us to cater to people seeking tranquillity and adventure. For us to continue on that route, we would not want to cater for the masses. We will continue to cater for families, young couples and millennials.

Taking these segments into consideration, proximity to key tourist attractions play a pivotal role. To site an example, the desert camps are just 15 minutes away from the Waldorf Astoria. We also have the mountains which are half an hour away from the hotel. This caters for people looking for adventure, mountain hiking, bungee jumping, rope swing and many more activities.

Looking at all these factors, we are working closely with TBWA on our brand positioning. We held a full rebrand workshop with key stakeholders from the government, Royal family and locals to understand their vision of the emirate. This will help us position ourselves not just a logo with colors and shapes but a brand essence, you can see, smell and touch. There is a lot of work taking place right now.


We have always believed that the key element of success is to develop and redevelop new relationships with on ground travel agents and tour operators. The second opportunity is to revitalise our digital front. Working with airline is another area of work to create the right packages.

In this regard, one key component is our relationship with Emirates Airlines, where, we are building on some of key routes. We recently participated in road shows with the airline to target and grow the CIS countries. The second initiative is working with them on co-marketing activities to promote Ras Al Khaimah in Russia. We are also in discussion with Emirates to see how we can activate these market strategies in other key markets.

We are also working closely with Qatar Airways. We have recently started finalising our Europe campaign with the airline which will continue into other key cities. Air Arabia is also another carrier we have a strong relationship.

We do see that bringing key segments such as airlines, travel agents, tour operators and hotels together will work to promote Ras Al Khaimah as one brand and sends a strong message to tourists.


The recent development announcement of the Anantara brand is essential to highlight the new areas of focus. This is a 225-room hotel in an environmentally preserved area. This also puts the spotlight on our focus to promote eco-tourism in the emirate. Al Marjan island is the next but that is our future… we have a great present to focus on at the moment.

The emirate has a lot of archaeological, historical and cultural sites. One of our new initiatives is the restoration of some of our historical sites. These are low hanging fruits and can be made tourist ready. We have plans to restore the Jazirat Al Hamara which is the largest historical site in the emirate. Jazirat Al Hamara is a beautiful village which tells the story of how Emiratis lived before the exploration of oil. There are about 425 units in the village and history reveals that the village in the past relied on pearl farming. Areas such as Jazirat Al Hamara gives tourists a little more to do outside resorts.

Wellness is another area of focus and we are in preliminary discussions with one of the spa operators. We are working on offering wellness opportunities not just on the coast but also in the mountains. Our key advantages are the Jabal Al Jaiz mountains, where we are exploring possibilities of eco-tourism and wellness between now and next three to five years.

In and around Khatt Springs, we have around two or three local branded hotels. The quality assurance teams are working very closely with these hotel operators to enhance and upgrade their products and services. We, as the government, also have a project within the next six to nine months to upgrade the Khatt Springs.


We actually have a target before the year 2020. We plan to attract one million tourist to the emirate by 2018. This growth very much resonates with the hotel supply in the emirate. By 2019, we should reach close to 3,600 rooms which are in the pipeline.


Our recent studies show that they is huge potential in the MICE segment. We have done a full study of meeting spaces not just in Ras Al Khaimah but also the surrounding areas. The study also included potential opportunities and leads we could target for the emirate. We see this as a wide space to work, leverage and build further. We are also looking at initiating locals conferences and events with big companies located in the emirate such as RAK Ceramics, Julphar to name a few. This will help us grow this segment.


Today, we are limited by some platforms we are using but opportunities are great to grow. We are studying the gaps we have in the digital front to enhance our offering. This will also involve the introduction of apps which will help us reach clients faster.


Gary Marshall
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Gary Marshall
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