The ruler of Ras Al Khaimah is optimistic about the emirate’s development in 2012, forecasting GDP growth of 8 percent for the second year running.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr al Qasimi said he is focused on boosting tourism and industry and is expecting more than 1m visitors to Ras Al Khaimah by the end of the year.
“I’m optimistic for the future,” Sheikh Saud said. “The growth in GDP for Ras Al Khaimah was 8 percent last year, and I hope we’ll have the same figure this year, if not better. We have also seen a growth in business registration by more than 25 percent. This is an indicator of growth, and I think this figure will stay the same in 2012.
“What we are trying to do is focus on our competitive advantage. Tourism plays a major role in our strategy and in the development of our emirate. I am hopeful that we will reach more than 1m visitors in 2012.”
Ras Al Khaimah has made several moves to boost its economy in recent years, mostly by increasing investment opportunities and tourism offerings.
Traditionally reliant on industries such as cement, pharmaceuticals and glass, the northern emirate, whose GDP comprises 1.5 percent of the UAE’s economy, is also keen to diversify.
In 2009, the government relaunched its flag carrier RAK Airways, offering cheap flights to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt in a bid to tap the regional travel market.
It also established the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Investment and Development Authority (TIDA) and the Ras Al Khaimah Hospitality Group last year, in an effort to help developers of tourism projects, and manage government leisure assets, respectively.
The government has since recorded a 40 percent increase in visitors to the emirate, with more than 800,00 holiday-makers visiting the city last year.
Tourism revenues, which soared by more than a third, also topped AED400m (US$108m).
Authorities are targeting 1.2m visitors by 2016, and a hotel room inventory of 10,000 rooms.
Sheikh Saud said the emirate was also positive about attracting a flurry of new investors in the sector, having recently signed a deal with world-famous Spanish football club Real Madrid to build a US$1bn resort island.
“I think the project will boost the image of the emirates - there’s no question about it,” he said.
“As for the economy, it will encourage more investors to come and join in with the tourism development, giving us more hotels and other projects. Each investor will define what is feasible, and we will be there to assist them in being successful.”
He added that the emirate was continually trying to improve the investment environment by simplifying business processes and bolstering its IT systems.
On up and coming infrastructure projects, Sheikh Saud said Ras Al Khaimah was considering plans for the expansion of its airport and looking forward to inter-emirate rail connectivity which would facilitate cargo transport out of the city.
One project the emirate is not considering, he said, is a metro system like that in Dubai as this is not yet economically viable.
“We’re not considering a metro yet, I don’t think it’s required at the moment.
“There’s a very efficient network of roads now which allow you to go from one part of the emirate to the other. We are looking at more public transport, but it has to be economically viable. I don’t think a metro is economically viable in RAK today.”