Destination Northern Emirates

With diverse alternatives to their southern sisters, the northern emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah are building themselves into destinations within their own right. Panayiotis Markides investigates.

Good things have always been said to come in small packages, and the same analogy can be applied to the UAE. As such, the northern most emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah are each working hard to successfully provide an extra punch to the UAE’s tourism offering, thus giving prospective visitors much to expect.

Describing the bright future forecast for the emirates was vice president sales and marketing – Middle East & Africa, Millennium & Copthorne MEA , Naeem Darkazally, who told TTG: “A recent report by Business Monitor International predicted that UAE tourism would cross the $20 billion mark in 2015 and expand with a 7.6 per cent year-on-year growth.

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“The increase in tourism to the UAE as a whole represents a growth market for Fujairah also, as this in turn trickles down to our own tourism sector,” he added, observing the positives for the company’s recently opened Millennium Hotel Fujairah.

Meanwhile, particular emirates are rising to the fore, such as Ras Al Khaimah, which is charging forward with plans to further develop its tourism offerings. CEO, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA), Haitham Mattar told TTG exclusively: “As RAK continues with its aggressive expansion plans, we look to further develop retail, dining, cruise, entertainment and MICE facilities, positioning Ras Al Khaimah as a world-class destination for business and leisure.”

AMBITIOUS DEVELOPMENTS

RAK TDA’s plans represent a serious bid on the tourism board’s part to develop Ras Al Khaimah into an in-demand tourist destination – a perspective which is shared across the emirates. With this in mind, major hospitality stakeholders are also eagerly following suit.

Keeping up with the torrent of development in the northern emirates, Mattar also elaborated on Ras Al Khaimah’s attainable goals for the future: “Ras Al Khaimah currently boasts over 5,000 hotel rooms with ambitions to add a further 20 new hotels to its inventory, adding 10,000 room keys to the emirate by 2022.”

He further added that the emirate aims to welcome one million visitors by 2020.

Meanwhile in Sharjah, executive assistant manager in charge of sales and marketing, Radisson Blu Sharjah, Kamal Rijhwani explained to TTG how the property is keeping up with the demands of Sharjah’s Vision 2022 – the emirate’s four-pronged approach to promote itself as a family tourism destination; to provide innovative tourism solutions; to offer world class tourism facilities; and to be an international cultural hub.

“Radisson Blu Resort, Sharjah [recently] launched a new spa facility,” he shared, adding that in keeping with Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority’s (SCTDA) plan for innovation, the resort has also launched the One Touch app, an application that puts all the hotel’s services at guests’ fingertips.

And in Fujairah, executive assistant manager, Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa – Al Aqah Beach, Imad Akil noted that the hotel is keeping up with the emirate’s own ambitions to attract the leisure market.

“We revamped our lounge bar and are currently working on introducing the latest wireless technology as well as premium fitness and wellness equipment,” he stated, adding that the property’s latest offering, the colonial lounge bar, will open this month.

Akil commented that projects such as the expansion of Fujairah International Airport, the Etihad Rail project, Fujairah Heritage Village and Fujairah Mall – which will also open this month – are underway.

Even in the UAE’s smallest emirate, Ajman, size is no obstacle as there is a conscious effort to deliver a tour-ism offering on par with anywhere else in the region. With new hotels under development and Ajman International Airport set to commence operations in 2018, the emirate is gearing up for increased arrivals.

General manager, Ramada Ajman, Iftikhar Hamdani told TTG that alongside other properties joining Ajman’s portfolio, the upcoming Al Zorah Development represents an exciting addition. He embraced this, stating: “We are happy to see more operators in our destination.”

Also welcoming the new projects was general manager, Fairmont Ajman, Henry Schaeffer, who divulged to TTG: “In Q1 visitors hit 120,000 and hotel occupancies were up to 70 per cent from 56 per cent the previous year, according to figures from the Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD). The addition of Fairmont Ajman [to the emirate’s hotel portfolio] complements Fairmont’s existing footprint in the UAE.”

LEISURE MODE

And as the four emirates continue to develop their tourism infrastructure, they have also set their sights firmly on the fruitful leisure and family segments.

“The natural landscape and current product offerings for Ras Al Khaimah are currently geared towards leisure, targeting millennials, staycationers and families with an appetite for adventure,” Mattar informed TTG, highlighting Ras Al Khaimah’s target visitors.

Meanwhile, shedding light on Marjan Island Resort & Spa’s appeal to these types of travellers was marketing coordinator of the resort, Ines Buck. Referring to it as the perfect luxury destination for families, Buck shared that the resort offers various leisure packages that expertly cater to their needs, with activities and options for children on a property that boasts two waterfronts.

Moving on to Ajman, general manager, Kempinski Hotel Ajman, Kai Schukowski noted to TTG: “Kempinski Hotel Ajman is a getaway destination, where people seek relaxation and tranquillity. It is far from the buzz of the city, yet only a short drive away from Dubai.”

He acknowledged that the main focus is leisure, however, the property is further looking to entice MICE and corporate travellers.

One particular emirate which is aggressively targeting families is Sharjah, with stakeholders proving they are adept at catering to this market. Indeed general manager, Coral Beach Resort Sharjah, Jean Pierre Simon elaborated to TTG that the property has recently undergone a refurbishment project to include interconnected family rooms within its portfolio.

Meanwhile, Akil of Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa – Al Aqah Beach also noted that the Fujairah property under-stands the needs of the family and leisure segments: “We offer them a white sandy beach, sparkling pools for children and adults, a water slide and an award winning Zen the spa with 11 treatment rooms, in addition to a kids’ club with a playground.”

Offering a different take on the UAE, the northern emirates are capitalising on their uniqueness to invite ever higher numbers of travellers.