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Sun 29 Apr 2007 04:44 PM

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RAK plans hospitality 'super hub'

The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah plans a $2.7bn 'Hospitality Trade and Training Zone'.

Ras Al Khaimah has announced a $2.7bn development intended to position the emirate as a regional hub for the global hospitality industry.

The International Hospitality Trade and Training Zone (ihottz) will be the the world's first hospitality super hub. It is the result of a joint venture between the government of Ras Al Khaimah and US-based development company Argentum.

"The UAE is at the forefront of the tourism boom, with the hotel industry expected to grow by 5% in the next five years, while niche sectors such as cruise liners, private luxury jets and budget hotels demand service. This project has never been done before and is very exciting," said Dr Izzat Dajani, chief executive, of the RAK government's Investment and Development Office (IDO).

"Hotel operators always mention the human aspect so this is the biggest challenge facing the industry. We see the value of Ras Al Khaimah becoming a truly regional hub of hospitality training."

The development, costing an estimated AED10 billion ($2.7bn) will encompass a 260-acre free zone and 90-acre education campus, designed specifically for hospitality professionals, and is set to open by 2009.

Featuring state-of-the-art facilities and modern dormitories, the Hospitality University will provide four-year undergraduate degrees and two-year master degree programmes alongside the Hospitality Technical College, while the ‘trade hub' will witness the formation of strategic alliances with local and global companies.

A ‘world class' culinary school will appear alongside an entrepreneurial college, travel industry training centre, an 80,000m² spa aesthetics and sports training building, as well as training facilities for call centres, security and concierges, offering accreditation found in recognised institutions in North America and Europe.

Dr Dajani said the zone's potential is obvious considering 12% of the UAE's GDP currently comes from tourism.

"Every discipline sits in its own entity in the development, so students will both live and learn on their own sites, so this will in turn further the emirate's economy and people will become more engaged in the sector, as there is currently a disparity between supply and demand," Dr Dajani commented.

Bobby Batmanghelidj, president & CEO of Argentum revealed that 5000 students will attend the university and technical training college combined, while professional training modules will welcome 1500 students, and a further 1200 students are expected at the campus' language school.

"The vision of ihottz is to capture students and professionals from a diverse cultural base, and the project's mandate is to build credibility by delivering finished products in phased developments, with the educational component arriving first," he said.

Branded hotel group training is encouraged with blueprinted first-class offices to act as regional headquarters for global chains, serving as ‘catalysts for new opportunities and perspectives in both the regional and global hospitality industry'.

Speaking exclusively to
Caterer Middle East

, Shahryar Hakimi Esq, corporate counsel for Argentum said graduates would be geared towards five-star properties, with a focus on training international students capable of entering the industry at managerial level.

Nicholas MacLean, CEO of CB Richard Ellis ME, said the company is present in 52 countries yet praised the ‘phenomenal support and training opportunities' in Ras Al Khaimah.

Robert Faktorow, the company's executive vice president commented that although the UAE is "architecturally fantastic", the service must be fantastic to lure repeat tourists and long-term sustainability.

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