RAK looks to increase tourist numbers from Europe

The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has signed up with two charter companies to increase tourists from Europe while looking to ramp up its tourism infrastructure for people with disabilities.

The emirate will receive tourists through two weekly charter flights from the Polish tour operator Itaka from November through May, and another weekly flight with the German travel company TUI will bring visitors throughout the year. It has an existing year-round charter flight deal with the tour company Coral Travel to bring visitors from Russia.

RAKTDA has also signed up with Brussels-based European Network of Accessible Tourism (Enat) to promote tourism for people with disabilities.

The agreement is an expression of commitment to ramp up services related to accessible tourism, Haitham Mattar, the RAKTDA chief executive, said at a World Tourism Day conference in the emirate on accessible tourism. “Over the next three years, we will … honour our commitment to this code by establishing accessible tourism products and practices in the emirate.”

“We are spending 85 per cent more this year than last year on marketing, branding and partnerships,” Mr Mattar said on the sidelines of the conference.

He declined to provide investment details.

As part of the ramp-up of its tourism infrastructure, Ras Al Khaimah will open a via ferrata, or protected climbing route, on Jebel Jais in November with three ziplines, ranging from 48 metres to 300 metres. It is in talks with three companies to commission the world’s longest zip line.

Mr Mattar declined to give the length of the longest zip line, but said it would beat the existing world’s longest zip line at 2.3 kilometres in Puerto Rico.

While hotels in the emirate and the UAE are typically wheelchair-friendly, accessible tourism also includes training staff to interact with the people with disabilities, and putting in place services that go with it besides making destinations and attractions, such as shopping malls and websites, accessible for people with disabilities, said Ivor Ambrose, the Enat managing director.

Access needs could include those that come with age-related disabilities, such as mobil­ity, visual and hearing impairments, but also include those with learning disabilities, different stature and long-term illness.

“Seniors in Europe are 65 per cent of the accessible tourism market and they make six to seven trips a year,” Mr Ambrose said.

Germany, the UK and Russia form the top three source markets for Ras Al Khaimah, followed by India.

“[Accessible tourism] is also more sustainable,” Mr Am­brose said.

People with disabilities travel with more people, stay longer and spend longer per trip, he said.

Saleem Mogral, the general manager of Al Majid Travel and Tourism in Dubai, said that the inbound market to the UAE will be phenomenal in the coming year because it gives a value for money with its infrastructure, leisure activities, entertainment parks and ease of getting a visa.

“As for accessible tourism, it will take some time to take off as you also need to think of how to take care of people with disabilities when they are here,” Mr Mogral said.

Tourism expenditure within the UAE last year was Dh95.5 billion and is expected to rise 3.3 per cent this year to touch Dh98.7 billion, Mohammed Al Muhairi, the undersecretary to the UAE Minister of Economy, told the conference.

The share of travel and tourism sector in the country’s GDP was Dh134bn, or 8.7 per cent last year.

“The Ministry of Economy is developing a national tourism strategy to coordinate effort [and] to develop and promote tourism [in the country],” he said.


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