Ras Al Khaimah looks to Russia as tourism numbers slump
Ras Al Khaimah tourism officials hope that Russian travellers will sustain the emirate’s hospitality sector after a 43 per cent slump in overall visitors during the first half.
About 330,048 people visited the emirate in the first half, down from 577,900 guests during the same period last year. Tourist spending during the half, however, increased 40 per cent to US$118.7 million from $84.95m last year.
“In the first half Russia was our largest overseas market, and it was not really affected by the uprising in Ukraine,” said Steven Rice, the chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (TDA). “The forward booking numbers for this month and October are positive.”
For five months through March, the Russian tour operator Coral Travel offered charter flights from Moscow to RAK, bringing 12,000 Russian visitors to the UAE, of whom 8,000 were expected to stay in the northern emirate.
Visitors from within the UAE, Germany and Russia were the largest source markets for RAK hotels. Tourists from the United Kingdom and India completed the top five , pushing out Ukraine and Italy.
Seat capacity on airlines between the UAE and Russia is expected to remain flat in 2014 after a spike in the past couple of years.
Emirates Airline last year increased its seat capacity to Moscow by 46 per cent, while Etihad Airways passenger numbers between Abu Dhabi and the Russian capital rose 36 per cent over 2012.
“The Russia-UAE market grew significantly [last year], when capacity nearly doubled from late 2012 levels and tripled from late 2011 levels,” said Will Horton, a senior analyst at Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
Etihad increased its Moscow services to twice per day from June 1.
While the weakening rouble and the closure of three large Russian tour agencies during the summer have put pressure on the Russian travel market, it is expected to remain strong for RAK.
Dubai-based Lama Tours, which handles about 11,000 Russian tourists a year, said it had not noticed an impact of the weakening rouble on the Russian tourist numbers.
Bookings by Russian tourists to RAK this year will remain steady at 3,000 guests in the final quarter of the year, the same as last year, said Kulwant Singh, the Lama Tours managing director.
German and Russian guests spend an average of one week in the emirate, he said.
About 65 per cent of RAK’s tourists are from the UAE, Russia and Germany.
At the Rixos Bab Al Bahr hotel on Al Marjan Island, Russian tourists account for the largest share of guests, at 25 to 30 per cent.
“We have good numbers from the Russian market and the future bookings look good,” said Haytham Omar, the general manager. “The Ukrainian market was affected, but it was not a big portion of our guests.”
Ukraine contributes about 10 per cent of its guests.
“We are looking to Czech Republic, Serbia and Romania, and it is actually working,” Mr Omar said.
Marjan Island Resort and Spa, one of the latest properties to open on the artificial island in March, is developing a Russian language website and participating at travel trade fairs in Moscow this month. It is also looking to build visitor numbers from the wider Commonwealth of Independent States.
Roger Tannous, the property’s general manager, said domestic tourists from the Emirates were currently the largest source group, with average stays of between two and three nights.
Little business travel reaches the emirate, according to TDA. This year and next, the agency wants to grow the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions business to diversify from its beach holiday crowd.
In the first quarter, three luxury properties opened on the beach – the Rixos Bab Al Bahr, Marjan Island Resort and Spa and a DoubleTree by Hilton Resort and Spa.
The emirate has about 6,000 hotel rooms.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter