Chief Executive Officer at Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) Raki Phillips speaking to Aviamost about the Russian tourism market and the current situation in the Emirate.
What are your expectations for the Russian tourism market with the resuming of the international flights between Russia, CIS and the UAE?
The return of the Russian and CIS markets is a key driver to recovery, given their position as one of the largest source markets to the destination in 2019.
Currently, all our international tourists come through Dubai International Airport, which is located only 45 minutes away and has no border. However, RAK Airport had just announced the reopening of the airport to international tourists from October 15, 2020. We will be announcing soon chartered flights as they are the backbone in driving footfall to Ras Al Khaimah and an important step in our continuous drive to increase accessibility and visibility to attract more high yield visitors to the Emirate.
What are the precautionary measures applied in the Emirate to ensure the health and safety of the tourists and residents?
As restrictions eased, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) took quick action to ensure the resumption of hotel operations while ensuring that the safety and wellbeing of visitors, residents and hospitality sector employees remained the utmost priority.
As soon as the crisis hit, we launched a range of far reaching support initiatives, aimed at our hospitality, leisure and development partners to lay the strong foundations for future recovery. We also shared a comprehensive contingency plan with our industry partners, which mapped out short- to mid-term solutions to mitigate the negative impact of coronavirus on travel to Ras Al Khaimah.
Through our strategic partnership with Bureau Veritas, we have led the way in implementing stringent health, safety and hygiene measures across all Ras Al Khaimah hotels to mitigate any possible risks for employees and guests and providing complete confidence in the destination.
As a result of these strict precautionary measures, Ras Al Khaimah became the first city in the world to receive both the Bureau Veritas Safeguard Assurance Label and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp which recognize the heightened safety standards, training and hygiene protocols in place across the Emirate. This naturally boosted visitors’ confidence and the demand of short getaways within the local market.
The partnership with Bureau Veritas included an independent audit, with all costs covered by RAKTDA, under its “SafeGuard Assurance Program” for all Ras Al Khaimah hotels, as part of the RAK ‘Stay Safe’ Hotel campaign. The auditing process included sharing a checklist of measures that was implemented across the properties, an onsite inspection and an unannounced visit. Individual properties were assessed on factors including: commitment to the program; respect for social distancing guidelines; compliance with hygienic practices and measures; as well as surveillance and management of any issues.
Current hospitality standards and procedures being implemented across the Emirate include the testing of all hotel staff for COVID-19, provision of masks and gloves for all guests, allocation of separate entrances and exits for guests and staff, reduced capacity in public areas and restaurants, and mandatory thermal screening at all entrances on arrival. RAKTDA’s inspectors will be undertaking daily spot checks to ensure the measures are being adhered to and will provide support from government authorities to help hoteliers enforce the protocols designed for guest wellbeing.
We have also recently announced, in partnership with RAK Hospital free PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) testing to international visitors staying in and departing from Ras Al Khaimah until 31 December, 2020.
How do you keep on developing the Emirate to impress the foreigners? Any new attractions or landmarks coming up soon that you would like to highlight?
With over 7,000 years of fascinating history, traditional culture and magnificent landscapes, Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates promises an authentic and accessible Arabian experience. The haven of year-round sunshine, features a rich backdrop of spectacular panoramas, ranging from 64 kilometers of pristine beaches, lush mangrove trees and undulating terracotta desert, to fertile, green oases and the dramatic, awe-inspiring vistas of the majestic Hajar mountains, including the country’s highest mountain peak – Jebel Jais – where adrenaline-packed adventures such as hiking, trekking, cycling and ziplining adventures await across its craggy ravines of the peak, which rises to 1,934 meters above sea level.
Ras Al Khaimah has more than enough exciting attractions to provide visitors with unforgettable experiences. Visitors can enjoy Jais Adventure Peak, which serves as a gateway to the various attractions – the Jebel Jais Viewing Deck Park that features seven viewing decks to help you soak in stunning 360-degree vistas of the spectacular Hajar Mountains; and the Jebel Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline which was launched in 2018. Another adventure attraction not to be missed is the Jais Sky Tour that comprises seven ziplines and a 15m-long sky bridge. The Jais Sky Maze challenges visitors to tackle a series of rope swings, wobbly bridges, swinging loops and more, as they make their way through the suspended obstacle course. Guests can also indulge in some sunset snacks and drinks at the newly launched 1484 by Puro located atop the Jais Adventure Peak, the UAE’s highest restaurant offering. Tucked within the Jais Adventure Centre, 1484 by Puro offers guests magnificent views of the Hajar mountains, to accompany its refreshing menus.
In addition to this, we have announced Bear Grylls Explorers Camp (BGEC) on the UAE’s highest mountain. As Ras Al Khaimah continues to grow as the adventure capital in the Middle East, this exhilarating survival experience from one of the world’s best-known experts will drive us on that path to attract outdoor enthusiasts from across the globe.
As travellers across the globe navigate through the ‘new normal’, the opening of BGEC aligns seamlessly with travel experiences set in expansive, open and natural environments and that are curated for smaller groups with safety protocols and social distancing measures fully in place.
Visitors can also experience activities such as backpacking, abseiling, gorge walking and canyoning through the dry wadi surrounded by towering mountains and giant boulders. Operated by Adventurati, visitors will be surrounded by like-minded adventurers and will be awe-struck by the breath-taking views of the Rocky Mountains.
Guests also have the chance to indulge in a sunrise or sunset yoga session in the mountains to forget the hassles of everyday life awaits. Camping can also be done at one of the most popular trails now in Ras Al Khaimah – Wadi Showka. Located at the edge of the Hajar Mountains, Wadi Showka is a diverse area with many route options for hiking, running, cycling, and welcomes even those who simply want to camp out in nature. For those who want to touch of the finer life, star gazing can also be done at the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert under the vast night sky over the golden sands of the desert to experience serenity and learn about the solar system with the astronomy experts available on-site.
Ras Al Khaimah’s unique terracotta desert is also one of the most fertile in the region, owing to a higher than average rainfall. Guests can glean insight into Bedouin life at various desert camps or indulge their senses on four-wheel drive safaris and horse or camel treks. For a more unique experience, visitors can take on unrivalled horse and camel riding experiences, offered by the Al Wadi Equestrian Center within a 500-hectare landscape in the heart of Wadi Khadeja.
For those looking for cultural experiences and historical sites, the Suwaidi Pearls farm – the region’s first cultured pearl farm – offers tourists insight into the pearl cultivation and harvesting process, starting with the history of pearling and educates them on the evolution of the industry throughout the decades. Tourists can visit the many sites of historic significance across the Emirate, four of which have been identified by UNESCO within its tentative list of global heritage sites. These include Jazirah Al Hamra, Dhaya, Shamal and Julphar.
In addition to this, Ras Al Khaimah is also home to some of the world’s best hotels where hospitality starts with safety – from ultra-luxurious beach resorts managed by some of the most notable names in global hospitality, to family-friendly city and beach resorts, along with city centre properties for the more laid-back visitors to enjoy and relax within. The Emirate features spectacular properties by renowned brands Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Rixos, Ritz-Carlton and many others, each of which offer unparalleled spa facilities such as the seaside massage in one of Cove Rotana’s beach gazebo.
We worked very closely with our hospitality partners and Government Authorities to safely welcome guests back to the Emirate and ensure the wellbeing and safety of visitors and employees. We were (and still are) in ongoing dialogue with hotel partners to ensure they are strictly adhering to government and public health guidelines and complying with all social distancing advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the UAE Federal Authorities.
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