Interview with Haitham Mattar
CEO, Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
Ras Al-Khaimah commits to sustainable tourism and further development of MICE and wedding venues, along with focusing on hosting OTOAI convention. Haitham Mattar, CEO, Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, talks to MIG about further developments.
Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is growing as a tourist destination. How has the footfall from India increased during the years?
In 2015, we already started looking at India as the cultural market for growth. One reason behind this is that India is Dubai’s largest inbound market and considering that we are only a 45 minute drive away from Dubai and offer a completely different experience than Dubai, we thought we would add great value as another option for Indian travellers, who would like to experience something different.
Establishing a presence through an office here was one of the key milestones, which also helped us reach out to the media and talk about our destination and its offerings.
In 2016, we were already showing a 25 pc growth in Indian travellers making India the fourth largest market, and this is something that is of course rolling onto 2017, as we witness a 35 pc growth in the first quarter of this year.
How do you further plan to target the Indian travellers? Is there a special campaign or any focussed marketing strategy?
Of course, we are very much focused on attracting families, as well as tapping the wedding segment and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) travel. So far, we have had five weddings since the beginning of the year and we already have 10 other weddings booked for this year. This is a growing segment for us and we have done a lot of dynamic marketing, and partnerships and co-marketing agreements with some of the key operators like Thomas Cook, who have helped us in creating awareness. Furthermore, we also signed a partnership with Air India Express, as landing directly to Ras Al-Khaimah has also been critical.
What are the popular destinations and new hotspots or services for Indians to explore?
In the mountains, Jabal Jais is a must visit. For the Indian travellers, if they like to drive sports cars then it is a beautiful drive. Also the Via Ferrata, which has climbing backgrounds, mountain biking and hiking, is one of my personal favourites. The wildlife reserve is another interesting destination where you can spot some deers and camels in their natural habitat. The Ritz-Carlton is one place where you can experience one of the most beautiful sunsets and enjoy stargazing.
What is your strategy for 2017-18?
Our plans are to continue focusing on growing in the Indian market. We are putting in a lot of effort and energy to drive further growth with the anticipation of the Indian market reaching a more prominent position as compared to today. We want to take it to number three or even number one. We continue to do strategic dynamic promotions in India and also look for more new partnerships as well as nurturing our existing partnerships as with the likes of Cox & Kings.
How is the connectivity between India and Ras Al-Khaimah and how do you plan to expand the network?
We are fortunate enough to have three airports in the vicinity. The Ras Al-Khaimah International airport, where Air India Express, Air Arabia, Qatar Airways and other low cost carriers are flying; Sharjah International Airport with multiple airlines is also 30 minutes away; and of course Air India, Fly Dubai and more are flying into Dubai International Airport, which is only a 45 minute drive from Ras Al-Khaimah.
Ras Al-Khaimah is hosting the 2017 Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) convention. Can you throw some light on the development?
The event underlines our growing credentials as a leading option for medium-size MICE events, thanks to our convention facilities, hotel offerings and meeting spaces. We have 250-300 delegates coming to the destination and as this is the top outbound travel association, we expect further growth and greater awareness of our destinations as these delegates will experience the offerings and will come back to India to share their experiences and help us grow to reach our targets for this and the next year.