Synchronised for Success - Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Making the journey from visitor experience to community responsibility
By Haitham Mattar, Chief Executive Officer, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
In the lead up to the 2019 Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), we asked a number of industry partners how they synchronise for success.
What amazes me, day after day, is the sheer amount of interlocking industries and disciplines that need to work together in perfect harmony to create a seamless tourism experience for visitors.
How much is involved to reach that goal is mind-boggling. Countries must liaise over easing visa requirements, airlines must support with routes and flight-scheduling, ground transportation must be coordinated, hotels and attractions must be built then fitted out and operated, and that's before you even start to drill down into hotel laundry, security, F&B…the list of services that need to work perfectly in conjunction with one another is endless. Everyone who works either directly or indirectly in hospitality must have the same common aim and all factors must work together in harmony to ensure that two interlinked aims are met successfully: first, that visitors have the most pleasant experience possible; and second- critically - that the destination sees tangible economic benefits and growth in revenue from tourism.
To that end, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority works hand-in-hand with all partners and stakeholders to accelerate the Emirate's progress, increase its appeal, and attract local and foreign investment in an environment that sustains long-term growth.
It was not difficult for us to develop our model. In tandem with, and according to the vision of Ras Al Khaimah's wise leader His Highness, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority launched its first three-year destination strategy in early 2016. Our mission was to achieve the ambitious goal of attracting one million visitors to Ras Al Khaimah by the end of 2018. Synchronisation with our partners allowed this ambition to be realised. We exceeded these targets with a reported 1,072,066 visitors from domestic and key international markets at the end of last year.
And working together resulted in shared gains. With the support of our partners, RAKTDA's strategic investments over the past three years have accelerated the Emirate's progress, surpassing regional growth trends and planting it among the fastest growing tourism destinations worldwide.
As our tourism offering evolves in Ras Al Khaimah, we must ensure our destination is attractive to travellers who wish to explore beyond our resorts and hotels. Through our new destination strategy 2019-2021, we will continue to create compelling offerings that combine the Emirate's key promises: pristine beaches; natural beauty; adventure and exploration; culture and heritage; excellence in hospitality and unrivalled experiences - so we can attract close to 1.5 million visitors by 2021, and 3 million visitors by 2025.
But visitor experience is only half of the story. Whether we are government entities supporting the sector, or responsible corporate citizens, in building successful tourism offerings our purpose needs to go beyond profit. We need to bring tangible, long-term returns for the communities in which we operate. In Ras Al Khaimah, our destination strategy 2019-2021 focuses not just on visitor targets or increases in duration of stays or RevPAR, but on how we can and will accelerate foreign and local investments within the tourism sector. It looks at how our sector can nurture home-grown small and medium enterprises to create further employment and business opportunities for local communities, and in our case in particular, for local RAK citizens.
In so doing we believe it is essential to prioritise sustainable and authentic cultural experiences that preserve our precious physical environments and our intangible cultural assets - which, after all, are what make us different, exciting and enticing tourist destinations.
For me, I can't think of many places in the world where you could zip line in the mountains, dive in the sea and take a horse and go hiking in the desert, all on the same day. But this visitor experience means nothing to me unless the local community benefits economically, socially and culturally from the opportunities our sector provides.
Too often, businesses in our industry, just like the tourists who stay in hotels, do not always venture past the front gates. This year, more than ever before, it's time for all us to understand and embrace our communities' needs as well as those of our guests.
AHIC Village — Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
Haitham Mattar, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, was appointed in May 2015 to drive the economic growth of Ras Al Khaimah by positioning the emirate as a world-class destination for sustainable tourism. With more than 25 years of experience in global destination and hospitality management and marketing, Mattar has held senior roles with leading global brands including Marriott, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and Hilton Worldwide.More from Haitham Mattar