N. Emirates ride the tourism wave

DUBAI — The tourism industry in the Northern Emirates, particularly in Sharjah, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, has been keeping a steady uphill climb in the recent years, a feat that official sources say is beneficial not just to their respective emirates but the country as well.

By Criselda E. Diala

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Published: Sat 5 May 2007, 8:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:19 AM

While its neighbouring emirate of Dubai may have its own perks, the Northern Emirates have not been lagging very far behind as a tourist destination with local and international tourists visiting them on a year-round basis.

Tourist arrivals

"The number of tourists staying in our hotels and hotel apartments has more than doubled from 600,000 in 2000 to 1.3 million in 2006. Around 30 per cent of hotel guests come from the GCC while the rest were from Germany, German-speaking countries, Russia and the CIS," said Mohamed Ali Al Noman, Director General of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA).

The influx of tourists, Al Noman added, has been a result of a new travel and tourism trend observed across the emirates.

"Previously, summer has been a concern for the hotel industry because of the naturally warm climate. But in the last few years, we have noticed that the peak season for tourism in the UAE actually happens all throughout the year. In Sharjah, we have an average of 82 per cent hotel occupancy rate annually," he said.

Ras Al Khaimah has also been very ambitious with their projection as they envision a total of 2.5 million tourist arrivals by 2012 from the existing average of 500,000 visitors yearly. Currently, majority of their tourist market come from European countries like Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

"In the coming years, tourism is going to play an ever increasing role in the economic development of Ras Al Khaimah. This is evident by the exciting new projects we are planning, the launching of RAK Airways as our own airline, and the steadily growing interest we have been receiving from local and international investors," said Dr Khater Massaad, Adviser to Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.

In Fujairah, the number of visitors had reached 200,000 with an annual steady growth of about 10 per cent, said Shaikh Saeed bin Saeed Al-Sharqi, Chairman of the Fujairah Tourism Bureau (FTB).

"We often register the most number of tourists in winter, which starts from September until April. However, the host of water sports activities offered at beach resorts and hotels have played a key role in attracting more tourists to the East Coast during summer," Shaikh Saeed commented.

Patrick Antaki, General Manager of Le Meridien Al Aqah in Fujairah, one of FTB's industry partners in its tourism campaign, said that they post an average occupancy rate of 87 per cent but the figures can reach as high as 100 per cent during peak season. Majority of their customers are from Russia, Germany, UK, while the rest are from the GCC or local (UAE) tourists.

Flight connectivity

Aside from offering natural resources, cultural, leisure and value-for-money features, the officials said flight connectivity plays an important part in luring more tourists to visit their destinations.

"For a destination to be successful, it's extremely important to have its own airline or a carrier that uses its international airport as a hub. Sharjah International Airport, over the last couple of years, had less than one million passengers but last year it received more than 3 million passengers and it's expecting its capacity to grow by 8 million passengers after they completed their expansion programme," said Al Noman.

He added that Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based carrier, has not only expanded its fleet within its three-year operation but has also widened its route to include 35 destinations. "This will definitely support the development of Sharjah's tourism industry," Al Noman said.

Likewise, as RAK Airways prepares for its operations, the RAK International Airport will witness substantial upgrading of facilities, said Dr Massaad.

"RAK Airways will open the country to greater economic development and will support various industries, not just tourism. It will be a full service airline with affordable fares and generous baggage allowance for passengers," he added.

The construction of new hotel properties in the East Coast has been expected to further fan the development that Fujairah is experiencing, said Shaikh Saeed.

"Fujairah is now positioned amongst the most popular year-round tourism destinations in the region and the development of infrastructure to facilitate this growth has been a major priority of the Fujairah government and the FTB," he explained.

At the moment, the emirate has four five-star hotels with two of the three on-going property projects scheduled to be open this year for luxury travellers. Shaikh Saeed said they also have four smaller hotels that cater to low-cost holiday goers.

He said FTB will continue to take part in international and national travel and trade exhibitions to promote 'Destination Fujairah'.

Ras Al Khaimah has plans to add 20 hotels in the next five years to its existing hospitality line-up of five 5-star hotels with 1,190 rooms, as well as 4- and 3-star properties. "In the next 10 years, we hope to have 30 to 40 hotels more in the emirate. Each will offer approximately 350 rooms," said Dr Massaad.

RAK Tourism, the government agency supervising the emirate's tourism activities, has also implemented an aggressive global destination marketing, PR and advertising plan starting this year.

Hospitality standards

Meanwhile, Sharjah has began classifying its hotels and hotel apartments in an effort to further upgrade the quality of its hospitality standards. "Hopefully before summer this year, we will begin implementing the classification system for all properties in Sharjah. This system is based on international standards followed by major destinations worldwide but also maintains Sharjah's unique characteristics," said Al Noman.

He emphasised that the classification will be significant in maintaining the credibility of tourist accommodations in their emirate. Most significantly, Al Noman said Sharjah has been very keen on promoting itself as a family destination rich in culture, heritage, arts and education.

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