x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The America's Cup is coming to RAK, adjust your sails

Ras al Khaimah's selection as the venue for the America's Cup has given the emirate a splendid chance to get its message as a tourist brand out to the world.

Ras al Khaimah's selection as the venue for the America's Cup has given the emirate a splendid chance to get its message as a tourist brand out to the world. Olivier Auroy writes The America's Cup will take place in Ras al Khaimah next February. The emirate's unexpected selection as the home for the world-renowned race is a formidable move by RAK Tourism. As branding consultants, we often advise our clients to choose the right event to boost their notoriety and visibility. When it comes to destination branding (for cities or countries), it always starts with positioning.

What does the city or country stand for? Beyond the obvious (low taxes, good lifestyle), what will make tourists visit or executives invest in a place? The battle is global and with tourism, the fight is fierce. Year-long sun or modern infrastructure is not enough, especially in this part of the world. You need something extra to attract audiences. This is where branding comes in. Recently, Morocco has touted itself as "a country that elevates your soul" while Greece invites guests to have "the true experience". Each adopted a spiritual approach. The idea is to transcend their unique and popular products on offer, those made of history and culture.

Morocco faces Tunisia and Spain: culture is not different enough. Greece competes with Cyprus and Turkey: beautiful ruins can be found all around the Mediterranean Sea. Morocco and Greece are known the world over. They don't need to explain who they are; they just need to add a bit of magic to their core offer. And that's what their recent advertising campaigns have done. So in the case of places such as Ras al Khaimah, what happens when you have awareness but people don't know what you are famous for?

Then, your approach will be slightly different. You need to educate the audience and explain what your product is about. This was the case for South Africa, which settled on "It is possible"; or Italy's Sardinia, which sells visitors on the idea that it is "Almost a continent". Cape Town or Durban in South Africa are known entities. People can visualise the yachts moored alongside the harbours of the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. But the countries need to tell their own stories.

The advertising campaigns for South Africa and Sardinia show landscapes similar to those in France, Brazil or Australia, and offer the message: "It is all in one. You have no idea of the diversity and richness of our country. Come and discover." Ras al Khaimah has a different challenge. It also has ambitions in the tourism sector, although it has largely been out-shouted by its two more vocal brothers, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. So, how can Ras al Khaimah get out its message, that it also has great potential as a leisure and tourism destination?

The emirate's first hurdle is that it lack awareness. People simply do not know who or where it is. It should refine its branding strategy to create a visual identity. We would then ask our clients to think of an event, an exhibition or show that could express the values and message of the branded place. The America's Cup gives them a good call to action. If Ras al Khaimah is about "achieving performances in the best possible environment", there could not be a better sports event than the America's Cup. Sailing naturally embraces values such as team spirit, speed and excellence.

The America's Cup elevates these values to a higher level. The fact that the Alinghi racing yacht, the F1 of the sea, has to fly over the Alps by helicopter and cross continents to reach Ras al Khaimah adds to the dramatic intensity. The buzz around the emirate's selection is already quite loud, much louder than the hoopla that engulfed Valencia, the home of the last cup, at the same time. Think of what the Formula One Grand Prix did for Bahrain. It basically introduced Bahrain to the world.

In 2006, we helped Doha create its visual identity, which gave Qatar a prominent position in both the media world, through Al Jazeera, and sports with its sponsorship of the Asian Games. All of these events have one thing in common: they gave these city-states global awareness, put them on the world map and raised their profile. The America's Cup will not only give Ras al Khaimah an instant and powerful boost of notoriety, but it will also put its message in front of millions of potential customers, investors and visitors.

If competitor BMW-Oracle validates Alinghi's choice of venue, Ras al Khaimah could join Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman as members of a premier tourism league in the region that not only includes the Gulf, but the entire Middle East and India. Olivier Auroy is managing director with gsFitch in Dubai.