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Ras Al Khaimah defies tourism slowdown

Ras Al Khaimah defies tourism slowdown

The emirate’s hotels have managed to buck a slowdown in the regional hospitality market

The regional hospitality sector has been hit by the general slowdown in the economy, with hotels reporting lower occupancy rates.

But it is not all gloom across the board. The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has bucked the trend and is hoping to see a 12 per cent rise in visitor numbers this year. Hotels in the emirate reported a 17.7 per cent rise in average occupancy rate during the first quarter of the year to reach 71.3 per cent.

Overall, RAK aims to attract one million annual visitors by 2018 and three million visitors per year by 2025.

In an exclusive interview, the general manager of the palatial Waldorf Astoria Ras Khaimah Andre Herrenschmidt explains how the emirate’s hospitality sector has progressed, why it is booming and where it is headed.

How has Ras Al Khaimah’s hospitality sector evolved since you opened almost three years ago?

“When you open a hotel like ours, you get huge attention and it does create awareness about the destination – that’s the role we have played.

“At the same time we have other hotels from other brands opening now and they are benefiting from the fact that RAK is booming but at the same time they participate in making the destination more known.

“So in today’s challenging context, RAK is actually growing. We had a very good year in 2015 – and it is looking the same way this year because we have the advantage of being the new destination. People like a new place, so a lot of our clients want to experience and experiment with the destination.”

Is the luxury hospitality market still growing despite the current challenging times?

“The world is not in a recession. The growth is slower than it was – but there is still plenty of growth for the luxury market. And the other thing with globalisation now is that you have new wealth being created in different parts. At the moment, we have fewer Russians in RAK but our biggest growth market is India. China is starting to grow and Africa and Western Europe are also doing well. We have new markets.

“Also, a destination like RAK offers peace, serenity, beautiful surroundings with high-quality service and security – there are only so many places that offer that combination.”

Do you see many of your guests now combining a holiday with trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

“I definitely think there is a new trend happening where people like to combine a holiday. Guests who have a week in the emirates have three or four days here to switch off and enjoy this serenity. And then they do two days of shopping and enjoy the big city life in Dubai. We also promote it that way with Waldorf Astoria Dubai.

“I really believe combinations are a trend of the future. We have guests here who combine stays in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and then come here. The days when people spent one week in one hotel are now gone. The new generation wants more variety.”

So what exactly is the new generation looking for?

“They want unforgettable experiences during their holiday. For instance we take guests at 6am to see a camel race in the middle of the desert and every guest I have taken comes back like an excited child.

“I think if you combine this kind of an offering with good service, you can reach out to the new generation.

“Also, since around half of our guests are local, they come back here to switch off from the big city life and go back to their roots.”

Do you expect any expansion or refurbishment programmes any time soon?

“We opened fairly recently so we are not going for renovation at this stage. I’m sure in the next few years we will open up more restaurants, so we have scope for this.

“In terms of innovation, the plan is to soon go keyless – so you will be able to access the room with your mobile phone. This is coming very soon.”

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