Having once lived hidden in the shadows cast by neighbouring mega-states, the smaller, yet equally ambitious Northern Emirates are on a mission to raise their tourism stakes. Emily Millett writes.
Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain – otherwise known as the Northern Emirates – are picking up the pace of tourism development, stepping into the spotlight and carving a niche for themselves as attractive destinations in their own right.
And although these destinations spent a long time living largely outside tourism radars, each of the Northern Emirates has a plethora of tourism-worthy qualities for business and leisure travellers alike.
“Sharjah is a place of cultural, historical and natural adventure, from captivating souks and museums to majestic mountains and incredible places,” general manager, Al Bait, Sharjah, Florian Leven told TTG. “A natural landscape that stretches from pristine undersea habitats to mangrove forests, sweeping sand deserts and tall craggy mountains. From the west coast to the east, there’s so much to explore no matter whether you want to be active, adventurous or just relax. Sharjah boasts a rich history, an exotic culture, an unexplored landscape and discoveries waiting to be made by the intrepid seeker.”
Sharjah’s appeal has not gone unnoticed by global travellers, as statistics have highlighted growth in both arrivals and room nights, as well as expenditure.
Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa said: “The year 2016 brought many achievements and successes to Sharjah. The emirate is reaping the benefits of the forward-thinking initiatives, new investments, bold projects and campaigns that are all aligning to increase Sharjah’s brand and profile on the global stage, as we enhance the emirate’s status as a regional and a global destination.”
According to Al Midfa, throughout 2016, SCTDA initiated an active programme of roadshows covering major cities in China, India and Saudi Arabia, in addition to taking part in prominent travel exhibitions in key generating regions, including Russia, Europe, China and the GCC.
Increased awareness and more strident promotional campaigns have served to ensure the Northern Emirates stay on the current path of increased popularity, which in turn is catalysing the developments of the region’s tourism infrastructure, as cluster general manager, Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman, Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman and Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche, Iftikhar Hamdani told TTG. “The tourism industry in the Northern Emirates continues to grow, as attested by the growing room inventory. We have seen increased tourist arrivals in Ajman, as well as a rise in staycations. Thus, on top of our strategy to tap into new markets, we are constantly putting out offers for UAE residents to entice them to explore Ajman.”
According to Hamdani, R Hotels – a wholly owned private enterprise engaged in the ownership and operation of hotels in the UAE – is also planning to open the first Wyndham Garden, located at Ajman Corniche, by Q4 of 2017.
The new four-star property will feature 179 rooms and suites, an executive lounge on the top floor with panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf, two restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool, a gym and spa, separate health clubs for men and women and a kids’ play area.
“We are excited to introduce the new Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche. Along with our two Ramada properties, the group is expected to accommodate the growing number of guests in Ajman, thus reinforcing our status as the leading group in terms of number of rooms and occupancy in the Northern Emirates,” said Hamdani.
Also in Ajman, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group is expanding its global footprint with a new Radisson Blu branded property, located just minutes from Ajman City Centre.
“We have very exciting news to share, as we are opening a new five-star hotel, Radisson Blu Hotel Ajman, with 147 keys at the end of 2017,” executive assistant manager, Radisson Blu Hotel Ajman, Kamal Rijhwani told TTG.
The new property will feature a host of additional leisure facilities, including Italian and Indian restaurants, a fully equipped gym, a 25m pool, a Natura Wellbeing Spa and a private beach. For business guests, the hotel is set to offer four spacious meeting rooms and a 315m² ballroom.
Meanwhile, big name international hotel groups are queuing up for a place on Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah, with companies such as Hilton Hotels and Resorts and AccorHotels having already signed up to build new properties on the manmade island development.
And it’s not just the global groups who want in on the action. Smaller boutique style properties are also making their presence known in the Northern Emirates, such as Al Bait, Sharjah, which is due to open early next year.
Speaking to TTG about the project, general manager, Al Bait, Sharjah, Florian Leven said: “We have already accomplished the hotel construction phase and are scheduled to open in first half of 2018. The hotel features 53 spacious guestrooms and suites, which reflect warmth and heritage in their Arabian decor combined with a modern minimalistic Asian design.”
UPGRADING THE OFFERING
Not wanting to get left behind in the midst of all this development, existing hotels are also enhancing their facilities in a bid to keep up with the region’s drive for tourism expansion.
“This summer we added new games at the pool area to meet our family tourism market expectations,” general manager, Novotel, Ibis and Adagio Fujairah, Karim Zaki told TTG. “We have also reopened the Jet Set Lounge with a new bistro concept, with a jukebox where you can play your own music, as well as weekly and monthly events.”
According to Zaki, the hotel plans to focus on MICE business and regular corporate business from Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the rest of the year, as well as the growing family market during the weekends. “We are also investing in upgrading our wedding offers,” Zaki added.
Offering a first of its kind initiative can help keep a property ahead of the growing competition, as Jannah Hotels & Resorts recently found, following the launch of the first ever temperature-controlled swimming pools in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah at Jannah Resort & Villas Ras Al Khaimah in July this year.
The new temperature-controlled swimming pools are located in the resort’s 24 private villas and are designed to ensure the pool water complements the weather and its surroundings all year round.
Chief operating officer, Jannah Hotels & Resorts, Mohamed Hani Fakih said: “As the first Jannah property in Ras Al Khaimah, our aim is to give an unparalleled Noble Bedouin-inspired experience for both UAE residents and tourists to enjoy. Providing temperature-controlled swimming pools is imperative in creating a promising venue where guests can explore the great outdoor facilities while indulging in five-star hotel standards.”
With F&B proving increasingly popular across the travel and tourism sector in the Northern Emirates, hotels and resorts are tapping into this niche to attract the rising numbers of visitors and residents alike. Coral Beach Resort Sharjah recently unveiled a brand new international all-day-dining restaurant called Côté Jardin.
Elaborating on the new outlet, general manager, Coral Beach Resort Sharjah, Haytham Aziz said: “An all-day-dining restaurant in a hotel is a key venue. No matter what your preference in terms of food, guests visit it at least once during their stay. Moreover, that’s where we serve our daily breakfast. Being an international restaurant, Côté Jardin offers a variety of dishes from all over the world. Hence, the layout of the restaurant is done in such a way that our guests find with ease whatever they need. It reminds one of a traditional kitchen, where you see your mum cooking. With a live kitchen, our fabulous chefs interact with the guests and enhance their experience.”
Thanks to renewed marketing efforts, a drive of development and an improved tourism infrastructure, the Northern Emirates are successfully earning the recognition they deserve as stand-alone tourism entities for both the business and leisure segments.