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What Makes Ras al Khaimah Stand Out as a MICE Destination?

After COVID, the Ras Al Khaimah wants to emerge stronger from the worst crisis in the history of the industry. Iyad Rasbey, Executive Director of Destination Tourism Development at the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), talks about the Emirate's future goals.

Iyad Rasbey, Executive Director of Destination Tourism Development at the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). Photo: RAKTDA

Mr Rasbey, what do you like about your job right now?

I have always been passionate about tourism. One of the things I enjoy in my work is coming up with innovative experiences to expand the MICE sector, as it is one of the fast-growing industries in the Middle East. My approach to developing MICE is holistic. I focus on integrating authentic offerings, genuine hospitality, and world-class brands all within the tourism framework.

When it comes to travelling, one could assume that destinations, in general, are among the great losers of the pandemic. How do you see that?

The MICE industry was, of course, impacted by the pandemic, but we also learnt from the experience and implemented a robust recovery plan that enabled us to emerge resilient. During Covid-19, tourism in Ras Al Khaimah dropped by almost 28 percent, but when compared globally, tourism dropped almost three times as much according to UNWTO. We have, for example, welcomed over 280 flights into Ras Al Khaimah over the past year, directly connecting more than 40,000 visitors.

What about business travel?

We looked to create a variety of offerings, such as the ‘Live RAK Play’ campaign, aimed at digital nomads. Another testament to our efforts was the certification of the Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre as the first safe meeting facility in the world by Bureau Veritas, the international leader in testing and inspection services. Underlining our focus on building industry confidence, we hosted the Arab Aviation Summit in 2021, the Emirate’s first in-person event since the onset of the pandemic.

You mentioned the pandemic also bearing some learning effects – can you elaborate on that?

For instance, Ras Al Khaimah lately has made strides in its quest towards digitalization, which has brought growth and transformation to the industry and contributes to the efficiency of tourism management. Digital marketing, geotagging and augmented reality today add value to destinations. In addition, contactless and paperless systems across the hotels in Ras Al Khaimah add to environmental sustainability.

Looking to the future, in which respects will the industry have changed most strongly and lastingly?

Globally, MICE travel is typically the last segment to recover after disruptions. Since the onset of the pandemic, the pivot to online platforms bridged some interactive gaps caused by restrictions and helped soften the impact on the MICE segment. Regardless of the appeal of traditional events, the virtual strategy has enabled exhibitors and speakers to reach a wider audience without the need to travel. This has led to a broader range of events offering a remote attendance option, particularly as people around the world become more familiar with online communications software, live-streaming technologies, and the cost-saving aspects of remote gatherings. Furthermore, remote options can be monetized – offering an additional revenue stream to help the MICE industry in the recovery phase.

Do you think digital solutions do justice to all aspects of traditional forms of business travel? Or is something being lost in the virtual?

While virtual and hybrid platforms will be an inevitable part of doing business in the future, and given our expertise, we believe that gatherings will always require the physical element – something that is deeply engrained in traditions and human nature.

This is reflected in the positive response we got for the events we hosted in a safe and secure way since the beginning of the new normal, such as the Arab Aviation Summit 2021 and 2022, the Global Citizen Forum, Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) as well as the first World Travel & Tourism Council Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum (WTTC) and many more that are testament to the region’s demand for in-person events.

What makes Ras al Khaimah stand out as a MICE destination?

For one thing, the Emirate’s popularity stems from the increasing ease with which it can be reached. We also offer its visitors the best in hospitality, with a wide choice of accommodation. Our event facilities are suited for all MICE groups including the Al Hamra Exhibition Centre, set on the pristine beachfront, the 4,500 square meters venue contains 2,700 square meters of exhibition space, two VIP Majlis, traditional meeting rooms, and is well-connected to 5-star hotels, a championship golf course, a shopping mall and an array of multicuisine restaurants.

Plus, it’s a beautiful Emirate.

Yes. Known for its stunning topography, Ras Al Khaimah also boasts a wide variety of unique MICE venues set across its sprawling deserts, majestic mountains, beaches, and cultural and historic sites.

Sound like the ideal place for bleisure travellers?

Correct, we are increasingly noticing a trend where professionals around the globe are adding weekends, or even weeks, to work trips, whether solo, with a partner, or as a family when business travel destinations appeal to them. Alongside our MICE offerings, our Emirate also boasts several adventure, culture, and luxury travel offerings for all to enjoy.

Are there any extraordinary incentives available for groups?

At the beginning of 2022, we launched a series of new initiatives to further support business tourists and MICE groups, which include flexible rates at Al Hamra, wave of permit fees as well as PCR tests for delegations, extension of hotel stay and meal plan for those who test positive and free coverage for those who need medical attention at Ras Al Khaimah hospital – all free of charge. We also provide reduced delegate rates on the Emirate’s several attractions.

What are the Emirate's most important strategic goals?

That would be to reach three million visitors by 2030. We are on track and quite positive that we will reach this number. Another goal is to become the regional leader in environmentally conscious tourism by 2025.

Felix Hormel

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