The Northern Emirates are home to a heady mix of holiday opportunities perfect for international visitors and domestic travellers. Tatiana Tsierkezou delves into this region of the UAE and uncovers the latest tourism updates in three of the most popular Northern Emirates: Ajman, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
The UAE is more often than not recognised for the tourism powerhouses of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but within this fascinating country lie more opportunities, more experiences and endless hours of fun. The Northern Emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al Quwain are slowly but surely wooing travellers the world over with their subtle charm and fascinating tourism portfolios.
In this report, TTG sought to uncover the very latest news spanning the three most popular Northern Emirates of Ajman, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
Covering a surface area of only 260 square-kilometres, Ajman is small yet mighty in character. This picturesque emirate is often a popular choice among those yearning for ultimate beach relaxation and a mellow leisure holiday.
Cluster general manager, Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman, Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman and Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche, Iftikhar Hamdani told TTG: “Ajman is the smallest emirate in the UAE, but it is never short of exciting things to do. The majority of our guests, who are Europeans, enjoy the pristine beaches and being away from the hustle and bustle of the city.”
Hamdani explained that Ajman is rich in traditions but embraces modernity and technology, which is reflected in its infrastructure.
Also highlighting the emirate’s appeal was general manager, Ajman Hotel, George Ganchev: “Ajman has one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the country and Ajman Hotel is only 30 minutes’ drive away from downtown Dubai and 20 minutes from Dubai International Airport.”
Working to promote this highly accessible emirate, Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD) is focused on presenting the destination as the ideal option for holidaymakers.
“ATDD is proactive and there are a few projects, such as Al Zorah, Ajman Marina and Dinosaurs Park, which will contribute to the growth of Ajman as a tourist destination,” said Ganchev. “Infrastructure is also growing fast, including shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment options,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hamdani opined that ATDD has been very active in promoting the destination and its impressive tourism portfolio through a number of workshops and roadshows.
“There are new attractions in the emirate, including water sports for the adventure seekers, different artworks and graffiti across the emirate for the culture vultures, and an improved retail proposition for shopaholics,” he said.
Looking forward to the rest of 2018, Hamdani expressed his confidence in his hotels operating at full occupancy for the rest of the year, highlighting that during the summer season, which is considered off-peak in the UAE, the properties enjoyed 90 per cent occupancy. “We are expecting busier operations during the winter season, as Ajman is expecting a rise in tourist arrivals in the coming months,” he said.
In terms of developments, Hamdani explained that Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche, which opened in Q2 of 2018, has been experiencing an impressive average occupancy rate of 96 per cent. The new hotel also recently welcomed a new seafood restaurant, Seascape.
“We aim to make Seascape a new gastronomic destination with its bespoke dining concept of serving fresh seafood,” he noted.
Ajman Hotel is also working on enhancing its offering and is strongly focusing on elevating guests’ experiences.
“We are working on the new set-up at Zanzi Bar, with the aim of making it the preferred beach bar destination in the Northern Emirates. We also have a new Italian Chef who will push our Italian restaurant, Sabella’s, to the next level,” said Ganchev.
Like Ajman, Sharjah (the third biggest and third most populous destination in the UAE) has its very own USPs to charm tourists the world over. Popular among travellers from Russia, Oman, India, the KSA, China, Pakistan and Europe, this destination has witnessed an influx of 1.7 million guests over the past year.
“Sharjah has promoted itself as an ideal tourist destination for families, with an emphasis on a family-friendly atmosphere, combined with excellent tourism facilities and events,” said general manager, Coral Beach Resort Sharjah, Haytham Abdel Aziz.
“Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), in association with Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority), is the driving force behind the transformation of the laid-back emirate neighbouring vibrant Dubai. With more than a dozen museums covering art, calligraphy, Islamic civilization, natural history, heritage, science and classic cars and aviation, there is plenty of choice for families,” he added.
Other notable attractions within the emirate include the Wasit Nature Reserve, a wetland that offers educational and cultural classes and facilities such as observation platforms; the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre, which provides unique opportunities for children and adults to learn about the preservation of the environment and understand nature in a fun-filled manner; Al Noor Island, spanning 45,470m2, which combines nature, art and entertainment; and many others.
But what is this dynamic emirate doing to further hone its tourism prowess? Answering this question was chairman, SCTDA, HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa: “We have been successful in organising a series of activities and events to take Sharjah’s tourism sector to new heights. The launch of the first Sharjah Summer Festival on July 11 was the latest. Featuring major entertainment, recreational and cultural activities, in cooperation with our partners, the festival is an integrated tourist experience designed to cater to the entertainment needs of both residents and visitors alike.”
Al Midfa also told TTG that SCTDA’s participation in several leading events and exhibitions this year was extremely successful in promoting Sharjah’s most unique tourism aspects.
With regards to game-changing tourism developments, Al Midfa explained that SCTDA remains committed to undertaking more developmental projects and initiatives to enhance Sharjah’s tourism sector.
“A series of new developments, including the Khorfakkan road project, Al Badayer Oasis Project, Kalba Kingfisher Lodge project, Al Bait Hotel, Novotel Sharjah Expo, Sharjah Anantara Resort, Pullman Hotel, Fossil Rock Lodge and DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah (a desert park resort in the Mahthab area featuring 134 rooms), as well as a Tulip management hotel with 210 rooms and a Ramada with 493 rooms, are set to change the face of the industry.”
Other noteworthy developments include the launch of the new Rain Room (designed by the Sharjah Art Foundation and the UAE-based Space Continuum Design Studio), which uses 1,200 litres of self-cleaning recycled water to provide an immersive experience, as well as Sharjah’s iconic Eye of the Emirates, which has been successfully relocated to its new home in the heart of Al Montazah Park.
RAS AL KHAIMAH
The last Northern Emirate to be put under the microscope is Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), home to incredible and highly unique adventures. RAK’s dedicated tourism body, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), has been working tirelessly to shed light on the emirate’s eclectic and highly experiential tourism product, in order to come closer to its goal of attracting three million visitors by the year 2025.
Summing up RAK’s USPs to TTG exclusively was CEO, RAKTDA, Haitham Mattar: “Ras Al Khaimah is a great complement to the other emirates, as it offers unique natural diversity comprising 64km of coastline, rolling desert and mountain terrain combined with authentic Arabian hospitality. Just 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport, you are a world away from the bright lights of cosmopolitan Dubai, allowing you to kick back and relax or enjoy an adventure on Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain.”
Mattar shared that the Authority has a number of strategic projects in line, including the growth of RAK’s hotel pipeline, with plans in place to add 5,600 rooms to the 6,500 currently available in the emirate. The destination will welcome a number of major global brands such as Marriott, Mövenpick, Sheraton, Anantara, Rezidor, InterContinental, Hampton by Hilton and Crowne Plaza over the next three years.
“The aim is to further grow to over 12,000 hotel rooms by 2022 to accommodate the ever-growing number of visitors,” he said.
Haitham also explained that RAKTDA’s efforts are also strongly focused on enhancing the emirate’s adventure tourism offering. “We are expanding Jebel Jais Flight: The World’s Longest Zipline and will be introducing an additional cable to enhance capacity by the end of this year, as well as an adventure park on Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain.”
Meanwhile, in response to growing visitor numbers, further development is planned to include a 37 room Luxury Mountain Camp, expected in December 2019; a Survival Training Academy, due for completion in Q3 of 2019; and 64.72km of hiking and mountain biking trails, opening next year.
But who is flocking to this adventure hub? According to figures released by RAKTDA, international markets accounted for 66 per cent of visitor arrivals from January to June 2018, with a notable increase in Russian visitors, up 50 per cent year-on-year. Germany remained the second biggest source market, up four per cent, followed by the UK with an increase of 13 per cent on 2017. The Nordic region also remained strong, seeing 21.3 per cent growth since the start of the year, while emerging markets continued their upward trajectory with the Czech Republic up 34 per cent, Kazakhstan up 22.1 per cent and Poland up 6.3 per cent versus the corresponding period last year.
As for GCC visitors, an increase of 4.6 per cent was witnessed during this period, with visitors from Saudi Arabia now topping the arrivals list.
The Northern Emirates are home to tourism portfolios that can satisfy the needs and wants of any type of traveller, and with further growth in the pipeline, the only way is up for these eclectic destinations.