The Gulf's best performing tourism market during coronavirus might surprise you

Ras Al Khaimah tourism chief Raki Phillips says domestic tourism market ‘key’ as the emirate continues coronavirus recovery

Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has revealed how important the domestic market has been, and will continue to be, as the emirate gradually recovers from the crippling impact of coronavirus.

CEO Raki Phillips told Arabian Business year-on-year business in general was down about 30-35 percent across all metrics – a substantial drop considering the emirate was running at 90 percent capacity through until the middle of March and fell to single-digits during the subsequent crisis months.

However, as the industry gradually recovers, he revealed RAK has bounced back better than most, including neighbouring tourist hotspots Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

He explained: “We noticed that our occupancies were from single digits and started to creep up to 20, 30, 40 percent.

“Compared to the UAE, as well as the GCC, as of the end of July we were number one in the UAE and in the GCC from a RevPar (revenue per available room) perspective. That, to us, was a huge accomplishment, which we’re very proud of.”

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Figures for July show average daily room rate was $138.3, while RevPar stood at $69.7.

A ‘shortcation’ campaign allowed visitors to enjoy a minimum of three days’ stay, with tickets to two attractions thrown in, with weekly draws and the recent grand final draw to win a Mercedes C-Class 2020.

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With international flights only returning to and from Dubai at the start of July, this meant the focus has been very much on the local market.

“The domestic market has been key to us. It’s proven to be resilient during this time and the hotels have done a phenomenal job in maybe tailoring their offering, from what used to be all-inclusive, all-buffet restaurants, to something the domestic market wants,” said Phillips.

As an example, he revealed that, in August last year they welcomed 117,000 visitors to RAK, 70 percent of whom were international and 30 percent domestic; while in August this year, there were 107,000 tourists, with 90 percent domestic.

He added: “When you think of that shift in business, to get those types of visitors coming to the destination, with very little international flights, I think we’ve fared and maintained quite well.”

However, that’s not to say there isn’t international interest from visitors looking to travel to RAK, with enquiries from source markets Germany, Russia, India and the GCC.

Phillips said: “We are tracking all of the international markets as they open up.”

One thing RAKTDA won’t be doing, however, is offering discounts, with Phillips preferring instead to rely on the tried and tested offerings that have made it one of the fastest growing destinations in the world.

“The easiest thing to do in the time of a crisis is you just discount and drop rates in order to attract volume. But we’re a small destination. We’re a developing destination and we really have a community feel to us,” he said.

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“It was a strategy focus that we came up with right at the beginning. We’ve looked at past pandemics and past issues and financial crises and the Zika virus that happened in Miami a few years ago and we realised that dropping average rate and discounting, it takes a much longer time to come back.

“But if you maintain, and especially if you have limited demand, a certain average rate, but you give value-adds, you give the levels of service, you give the offerings, we figured that was the right strategy and I’m happy to say that strategy worked out for us.”

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