By Tatiana Veller, Managing Director of Stirling Hospitality Advisors
Historically, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has been the “backyard” retreat for Dubai residents, providing an affordable escape from the busy city life with all-inclusive family-friendly packages. In the past two years, the picture of RAK’s future in hospitality has changed drastically; especially with the integrated resort and casino announced by Wynn in late 2022.
Today, upper-upscale and luxury resorts such as Movenpick Marjan Island and InterContinental Mina Al Arab have set up in Al Marjan Island. Both assets are managed by Stirling Hospitality Advisors’ advisory team; paving the way for the immense pipeline of premium lifestyle hotels in the northern emirate. So, the question today remains ’Is the public ready to see RAK as a completely new destination and pay for it?’ Let’s approach this in two parts separately – the influx of lifestyle hotels and the question of RAK as a premium destination.
First, what does the new fashionable “lifestyle” tag really mean? It’s quite simple. A lifestyle property is a branded hotel or a division of a hotel with the look, feel and atmosphere of a boutique hotel. The growing popularity of this type of positioning is directly explained by the shift of the target market to include new generations. Today, present and future hospitality projects target Millennials and Generation Z. Previous generations used to worry about a certain level of consistency, quality of product, and level of service that Millennials now consider the minimum acceptable baseline. This new generation of travellers are looking beyond that – the golden snitch is now a unique Instagrammable experience. Successful boutique hotels with great online reviews have been the go-to experiences over the last two decades and, of course, all the international hotel operators want a piece of the proverbial pie – hence the popularity of the lifestyle hotel.
Now, in terms of RAK turning into a premium destination – that’s a whole different story. The emirate has slowly been transforming its image regionally and globally through simultaneous developments taking place. First and foremost, since the Wynn resort announcement, the entirety of Al Marjan Island land has sold out within 10 months of when the news broke, and the pipeline that has formed with the announced projects (most of them signed already) clearly speaks for itself. Over 30 hotel projects in different stages of development with over 11, 000 keys are currently ongoing across the emirate. These include large-scale hotel operators such as the Address, Anantara, Westin, Rotana, Mantis, Nobu, JW Marriott, Le Meridien and many more. At Stirling Hospitality Advisors, we’ve constantly been hosting interested developers from China, India, CIS countries, Europe and recently Canada and Australia, which only proves the increase in interest from foreign investors.
Yes, there is no question about it – RAK will and already is transforming into a destination with a very different image. In our opinion, the Emirate is large and diverse enough to host additional sub-markets within clusters that have already started to form. As discussed, Al Marjan Island, associated with the Wynn integrated resort will be a focus for luxury and lifestyle developments. Mina Al Arab, while modern, retains its appeal to families and caters to the local demand for stay-in resorts. Further northeastern beachfront areas hold potential for integrated wellness, spa, and health resorts. These specialised offerings with longer average stays, justify the longer travel distances from Dubai, as guests are willing to journey for similar experiences. In our opinion, there is a clear market opportunity for both traditional spa and wellness resorts like Six Senses and COMO Shambhala. This also includes medical and integrated wellness resorts such as SHA, Clinique La Prairie, or Canyon Ranch.
Ras Al Khaimah’s tourism sector is on a transformative trajectory, and we are proud to be witnessing the transformation unfold before our eyes. At the same time, we play a role in bringing developers from around the world and helping them set up in RAK, find the best possible concept and realise their vision.