Since the conceptualisation of Al Marjan Island, it has been tipped to become Ras Al Khaimah’s landmark, multi-property resort, with 8,000 operating keys, 23km of beachfront and 12,000 apartments. Melanie Mingas speaks to architect Abdullah Rashed Al Abdooli, managing director of AMI Company to discover more about developing destinations.
Not since Dubai’s The Palm Jumeirah has an offshore tourism destination captured the attention of the GCC’s tourism market in way Al Marjan Island has a landmark in its own right since the opening of Rixos Bab Al Bahar in Q1 2014, Al Marjan Island has become the jewel in Ras Al Khamaih’s crown and will soon also become the backbone in the Emirate’s tourism strategy.
First announced in 2013, already the four island enclave is home to hotels operated by Rixos, Hilton, Accor, and developers AMI, with a further property by Bin Majid Hotels and Resorts, due early next year. Literally translating as “coral” the Al Maran project extends 4.5km into the Arabian Gulf, the entire plot covers an area of 2.7million sqm, with a number of other projects currently under design review. Each of the four islands – named Breeze, Treasure, Dream and View – has its own characteristics, and the coral shape maximises the vista.
Architect Abdullah Rashed Al Abdooli, who is also managing director of developers AMI Company, explains: “The coral shape gives the investors and visitors a fantastic waterfront view from the moment you enter the gate. It’s totally different from other waterfront developments. That’s the unique part of Al Marjan; the design is more friendly and sustainable and innovative and each attraction on those islands has its own characteristics.
He adds: “Whenever you want to build you have to think in a new direction and add value and complement. You have to ask: what can I add to the offer? That’s why we tried different projects on the waterfront. Although it is risky you have to build something unique and build it carefully.”
An architect by profession, Al Abdooli has stipulated in the masterplan that all developments on the island will be limited to seven to 10 storeys, to avoid feelings of overcrowding and encourage people to embrace outdoor activities.
He says: “The main purpose here is to attract people. Not just people in RAK, but people who will visit for the weekend, foreign travellers, business people, investors. That is why we call it ‘your favourite destination’.”
Al Abdooli is the final quality control after the technical review of proposed projects has been completed, who is empowered to check plans against their original design and assess how a design can be adapted, if and when necessary, to investor demand, while also respecting the overall vision of the development. “Our investors want to make revenue and we have to support that.”
In addition to the existing stock and projects due to open imminently (see box), there are further projects currently under design review and discussion with investors, who have purchased off plan.
Taken in its entirety, the project is a study of regional hotel design trends and encompasses the needs of families, couples and groups in a way few other master-planned tourism community manage to integrate. “The evolution in hotel design is moving faster and faster and the user right now is looking towards quality and size, so those are the main focus points,” observes Al Abdooli.
“Rixos is popular because of the room size and that is important in terms of attracting families. It’s what you can do to add value to your vicinity, as well as the quality of the finishings and the different orientations you can offer. These are the factors improving and evolving hotel design; architectural elements and soft furnishings.”
Another important element is the focus placed on the surrounding environment. While the long summer months have left many unable to recall of the charm of the great outdoors, since the appointment of CEO of the emirate’s Tourist Development Authority (TDA), Steven Rice, significant focus has been placed on positioning RAK as a place to do, rather than eat or observe, as the pattern has emerged in other emirates. Working with this vision, not only are the low rise buildings intended to ensure nature is visible – and therefore accessible – they are circled by a 3.5km promenade, family friendly facilities and watersports.
The bigger picture
The project isn’t just another development is an ever changing area, but an integral part of the landscape and overall vision of the emirate’s government, which has invested $500m into tourism development projects to date.
In appointing Steven Rice as CEO of the TDA in December 2013, the government delegated responsibility for the emirate’s reputation and popularity to the organisation and is starting to reap the benefits. Rice is responsible for an ambitious rise in GDP tourism receipts from 5% to 9% and establishing the emirate globally as an affordable luxury and outdoor adventure destination.
Speaking ahead of his first ATM in 2014, he said: “Ras Al Khaimah is going from strength to strength as a tourism destination. We are in a fantastic position to attract investment which capitalizes on RAK’s accessibility to Dubai International Airport, its natural attractions of a moderate climate, rugged terrains and mountains, clean beaches and archaeological sites, coastal areas and desert, to build the emirate’s tourism sector.” Growth will not keep up with the pace of development seen elsewhere in key GCC destinations and RAK’s pipeline will only increase as demand does – ensuring strong performance results across the key metrics for all stakeholders.
That doesn’t mean results to date haven’t been strong, with a 50% increase in tourists in 2014 and an estimated growth in hotel revenue of 35 – 40% YoY, raising an additional $384m in revenues in 2014.As these results increase and investor appetite also grows, the role of Al Marjan Island moving forwards will most certainly be an important one.
The Al Marjan Inventory
A 655-rooms Rixos Bab Al Bahr Resort opened its doors on the man-made Marjan Island of Ras Al Khaimah in Q1 2014.
The 346-rooms Ras Al Khaimah Waldorf Astoria opened in Q3 2013, marking the entry of the luxury Hilton Worldwide brand to the UAE.
The 265-rooms Al Hamra Fort Hotel & Beach Resort re-opened in Q4 2013 as a Hilton Hotels & Resorts property.
The 485- key DoubleTree by Hilton Resort, Marjan Island is opened in Q4 2014.
The 265-rooms Santorini Hotel by Bin Majid Hotels scheduled to open in Q4 2014 on the Al Marjan Islands.
The 301-rooms Marjan Island Resort & Spa opened in Q1 2014 on the Al Marjan Islands.