Obscure emirate in UAE poised to become a tourist hot spot
Alvin R. Cabral, interview, 7 July 2013
The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah — at the very least — isn’t as glitzy as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, neither is it as busy as Sharjah or Ajman.
A good number among us would identify it as somewhat of a getaway or a hideaway from our normal, busy lives.
But what many don’t know is the fact that RAK is revving up its economy with a plethora of offerings for several industries. And at the forefront of this — or at least at par with its attractive industrial free trade zones — is its hospitality sector.
And, as a top official of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts put it, “with the sea, sand and mountains, RAK is poised to emerge as a tourism destination in the UAE”.
“In the GCC, visitors feel very welcome. And RAK has its own warmth,” Anders Dimblad, area general manager for Ras Al Khaimah, told Khaleej Times in an interview.
“RAK is trying to become a tourism hotspot, and it has the potential to do so.”
Singapore-based Banyan Tree was established in 1994, and its first resort opened in Phuket, Thailand. Since then, the brand has spread globally, putting up more properties in China, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mexico, Seychelles, South Korea, Vietnam and, of course, the UAE, with several properties under development in the Americas and Europe. Information from its Web site show that from 2014-17, there are plans to add several more destinations in China, as well as one each in India, Malaysia and Morocco.
It has two properties in the UAE, both in RAK. Banyan Tree Al Wadi is the first desert resort in the UAE featuring 101 all-pool villas, 3,999sqm of Asian-inspired hydrotherapy spas, a dedicated nature reserve and a private beach. Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach, on the other hand, is an integrated resort located in the exclusive Al Jazirah Hamra development.
The resorts opened in early and late 2010, respectively, and are just 15-20 minutes apart.
And if its two UAE properties being located in RAK is any indication, Dimblad — who was born in Manila and has spent a considerable amount of time in the Philippines — feels very confident of the hospitality industry there, especially with these two resorts putting up “very good” occupancy levels and receiving “positive and inspiring” reviews from guests.
“Our visitors enjoy their stay in our RAK resorts [because] we take the extra step for [their] satisfaction,” he said.
Banyan Tree has only one other property in the GCC — a joint-venture maternity hospital in Kuwait that is unbranded. Dimblad said that the company is into discussions for possible developments in the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.
Complement, not compete
While having an image and offering of its own, Dimblad believes that RAK — along with the other emirates — are not trying to outdo each other. Rather, they help each other out in making the UAE a tourism hub with each emirate having its own distinction.
“Dubai has always been the leader in the industry, no question… and other emirates are not trying to compete; they’re trying to complement each other,” he stressed.
And speaking of distinction, Dimblad mentioned that the tourism board in RAK is complementing on developing a mountain resort — something that, if it pushes through, will serve as a huge boost for its tourism and a come-on for visitors.
“Temperatures are down in RAK’s mountain areas. That’s a good respite from the desert heat we all experience,” he said candidly.
“If you’re coming for a vacation, you need to be touched with beautiful hardware, which is what we have,” Dimblad said, referring to Banyan Tree’s facilities.
However, as with a computer system, the hardware won’t function alone.
“On top of that, the software is what gives the property its soul, and that’s the right people running the show,” he said, adding that the right staff training will differentiate one resort from the rest.
“That good hardware-software combination sets us apart.”
And speaking of computers, Dimblad said that Banyan Tree is also working to incorporate more technology into the brand, although they are not trying to overdo it, especially in its resorts’ leisure areas, “so as not to lose our personal touch that is human element, which drives a lot of people”.
“We’re calculating the ways where we can introduce more technology with all the devices and gadgets today,” he said, giving an example of developing apps for mobile devices where guests could, for example, view the hotel’s menu, services and others.
“We want to remain strong in the human touch, and with the right amount of technology, it would be a perfect combination.”
Right location, partners
Dimblad mentioned that Banyan Tree had plans for an Abu Dhabi resort but, unfortunately, it was put on hold as it was being discussed during the global financial crisis. When asked on its status, he said that there are certain factors to consider.
“We are always looking to expand our presence in several markets, but we’re looking for the right partners, not just in terms of investment but also in social responsibility,” he said, referring to the Banyan Tree code that each of its properties must be environmentally-friendly.
“We don’t just want to go somewhere for the sake of being there; the location should also be right and should suit the brand.”
Same for Dubai; Dimblad said that the brand is interested to develop business properties or city hotels in the emirate in places such as Jumeirah.
And while smaller compared to the hospitality industry’s giants, he said that being small also has its advantages.
“We can maneuvre and adapt very quickly, and we can change our market strategies and policies to suit the environment we are in without losing our core values,” he said.
Dimblad is confident on the UAE’s position as a tourism hub. And for Banyan Tree’s expanding brand, RAK is a good springboard to spread its wings further in the UAE and the rest of the region.
“Rates and occupancy levels will continue to grow,” he said. “That’s because people don’t mind to spend their money as long as they’re getting value for it.”