While Dubai and Abu Dhabi have stormed ahead, their northern neighbours are playing catch-up
The movie Sea Shadow is a new coming-of-age drama about a 16 year-old teenage Emirati boy called Mansoor as he grows up in a poor village. Launched in the glamorous French Riviera at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the film is set in the coastal towns around the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and was the first Emirati production financed by Image Nation, Abu Dhabi’s state-backed film production company.
Image Nation previously focused on co-financing multi-million-dollar Hollywood blockbusters staring big names like as Matt Damon, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson and Nicolas Cage.
As the UAE celebrates its 40th anniversary, the focus on promoting local talent across the region is a clear example of how Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth can be used to showcase some of the poorer and less well-developed parts of the union.
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is already looking to capitalise on this opportunity and its government has set up a new company to support the emirate's growing hospitality sector. Ras Al Khaimah Hospitality Group acts as a management company on behalf of the government owned hotels, hospitality, tourism and leisure assets.
The government hopes the new vehicle can accelerate the development of hotel projects to achieve the target of having 10,000 hotel rooms in the emirate by 2016.
To help achieve this, the RAK government also announced this summer it plans to plough $100m into hotel and tourism projects over the next four years in a bid to quadruple its number of visitors.
"Ras Al Khaimah is fast becoming a strong contender within the global hospitality market and this company will be taking an active role in introducing new hospitality projects," says Victor Louis, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Hospitality Group.
“The northern emirates are not oil-based. RAK's economy is a combination of industry and tourism… RAK also has some of the best hotels in the UAE which include Hilton Beach Resort, The Cove and Al Hamra Fort Hotel; in 2012 the world renowned Waldorf Astoria Palace Hotel will also be opening,” adds Abid Aziz, residential consultant for the Northern Emirates at real estate agency Better Homes.
With hotel projects up and running, the RAK economy is also performing well and is set to grow ten percent this year. RAKBANK, its national lender, saw profits rise by nearly a quarter in the first nine months of 2011 and it regularly tops the polls for the best customer service in the UAE.
While it may only account for around 1.5 percent of the UAE’s GDP, RAK’s ruler, HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, believes the emirate can compete with its wealthier and more developed neighbours.
"Here, what we really promote is zero corruption,” he says. “I have seen the world, and it's not about business laws, but the practice of business laws… If we look at the whole of the emirates as such, [RAK] has a fantastic geographical location.
“We have a very liberal policy towards the transfer of money, a very liberal policy in terms of bringing in talent and labour, you have a fantastic centre for education and healthcare, [as well as] roads, ports, airports,” he claims.
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