24 - 26 MAY 2022

DUBAI WORLD TRADE CENTRE

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Changing the tourism focus for a post-Covid world

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RAK tourism chief Raki Phillips outlines his hopes and ambitions for 2021

It has been truly inspiring to see countries, governments and organisations come together over the past year to support our communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We remain positive about our travel industry’s continued ability to successfully navigate this ever-changing situation. The key to future tourism lies in fostering a culture of inclusion and diversity, driving consumer loyalty or ‘authentourism’ and business growth, as well as cultivating a sense of belonging amongst travellers.

Assessing the shifting needs of the global workforces is also vital, as the growing remote workforce seeks accessibility, convenience and digital support. Continuing on this theme is the rapid change in organisational culture with corporate leaders looking inwards and addressing the mental wellbeing of their employees, offering support and flexibility, and potentially giving rise to strong well-connected teams, that bring both a sense of passion and resilience into their fields of work.

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic world, destinations will need to have a greater sense of self and ensure that their purpose and values are embodied across all touch points and experiences. Offering visitors the chance to discover the essence of a destination will be a key focus, but more than that, the movement towards under tourism being the new over tourism will take on a whole new meaning, where immersive and nature tourism will become an expectation and no longer a rarity.

From this perspective, Ras Al Khaimah is known for its mountain eco-system – Jebel Jais, the highest peak in the UAE, but the Emirate’s heritage is also a point of pride, with the Dhayah, Jazirah Al Hamra, Shimal and Julphar recently recognised by UNESCO and placed on its tentative list of World Heritage Sites. Culture is more than just bricks and mortar – it’s also about its people and heritage.

Offering the chance to connect with its people and traditions, including its agriculture, trading history and tribal ancestry, underscores an unvarnished and authentic tourism experience. Attractions such as the Suwaidi Pearls Farm, which offers a glimpse of the pearling culture of the nation, Bedouin life through immersive in-camp experiences and working date farms, provide a deeper understanding of the historical and current significance of the Emirate.

Across the board, the issue of mental health has been put in stark focus in recent months, giving rise to key learnings that we must take into the new year. Organisations will need to identify the right protocols and measures to safeguard teams and build confidence and security in the workplace, whether remote or in a traditional office.

Proactiveness to embark on new strategies will be essential and can affect everything from more fluid job descriptions, re-structured benefits to mental health support. At Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), we quickly adapted and pivoted, putting into place remote working policies, hardship support and are soon to launch a range of curated benefits that better suit our employees’ needs and circumstances.

These efforts are just some of the factors that have earned RAKTDA the title of Government Entity with the Happiest Employees in Ras Al Khaimah, out of 17 government entities surveyed as part of the Sheikh Saqr Program for Government Excellence annual employee survey.

When we look at crisis, especially in past year, we can visualize them as successive waves – with Covid-19 as one of the larger successive waves representing climate change and biodiversity collapse. However, once we flatten the Covid-19 wave, it doesn’t stop there.

The repercussions on climate change and biodiversity will be much harsher. This is why conservation and sustainability are critical areas when flattening these curves. As a destination, we aim to build our attractions in a way that do not harm, but rather weave seamlessly within the natural environment. Working closely with EarthCheck, a global sustainable tourism expert, we are co-creating genuine sustainable practices across our hospitality portfolio, including increased recycling, decreased waste and energy consumption, green procurement and clean ups at key touristic hotspots.

We are also running a scholarship with the American University in Ras Al Khaimah that focuses on tourism related educational programming. Various government sectors of Ras Al Khaimah, including RAKTDA, have also recently announced a long-term investment strategy for the development of nature-based tourism attractions on Jebel Jais.

The projects, including an eco-friendly pop up hotel, the Jais Coaster, a food & beverage village, and the Sky High Meetings, the first-of-its-kind highest meeting room in the UAE, will not disrupt the mountain eco-system but rather enhance knowledge and understanding of conservation.

My prediction for 2021 will revolve around leadership. The kind of leadership built on consistency, transparency, accountability, and empathy which can come from anyone – from the highest-ranking CEO to the determined line level colleague.

The need for compassionate leadership will help strengthen vital relationships with partners and stakeholders, and allow us to pivot in response to global circumstances. One such collaboration I would like to highlight is with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). We work with members from around the world to discuss pressing issues and share best practice regarding safety and hygiene in the tourism industry.

Our collective discourse on travel protocols and the most promising way forward has guided our comprehensive recovery plan and stimulus packages, allowing us to make a strong comeback and earn the title of Gulf Tourism Capital for a second year. It has also led to a year of positive performance, with Ras Al Khaimah placing first in the UAE in terms of ADR and RevPAR month (November 2020) and year-to-date, as well as leading RevPAR (year-to-date) in the GCC.

One last take-away – national unity and speaking with one clear voice will be pivotal – and something that the UAE has made great strides in. Earlier this month, the UAE unveiled a unified tourism identity that showcases the diversity and richness of the country’s offering, emphasizing its position as one of the most dynamic and cherished destinations across the globe.

In complete alignment, we will continue to grow Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism offering and work closely with other entities across the UAE to build resilient tourism and to take it forward in a post pandemic world.

Raki Phillips is CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority

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