Real Madrid football resort is part of RAK’s big plans
Real Madrid thinks it's the real deal, the Hilton plans to build a Waldorf Astoria "palace" there and more than a million visitors are expected to flock to its sandy settings within the next few years
The question has to be asked - what’s rocking in Ras Al Khaimah?
The most northerly of the seven emirates that makes up the UAE, the name Ras Al Khaimah translates from Arabic into ‘The Top of the Tent’. The way its pitching things these days, Top of the Tree might be more apt.
At the end of March, people awoke to the eye-opening news that the world’s most successful football club, Spanish giants Real Madrid, want to build a ‘sportainment’ tourism complex -featuring a 10,000-seater stadium, state-of-the-art training facilities, an amusement park and luxury hotels - on the emirate’s Al Marjan Island development.
We were told RAK - population of 260,000 - aims to attract one million visitors from January 2015, the project’s proposed completion date. And make no mistake, Real Madrid intend on making money from their 50-hectare RAK resort.
Admitting the project was “unusual”, Real president Florentino Perez also insists the nine-time Champions League winners are “setting a trend as (football) clubs try to find new ways to make money”. He added the emirate’s government “shared Real’s vision, drive and ambition”.
And they’re certainly not the only ones who see huge potential in Ras Al Khaimah. The Hilton is to open a Waldorf Astoria, the company’s uber-swish flagship brand, in 2013, which, according to the firm’s vice president for the Middle East and Africa, Essam Abouda, “will be designed as a palace, in what will be one of the most luxurious and exclusive properties in the UAE”.
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority hopes tourism will make up 20 per cent of the emirate’s economy by 2021 - more than $1 billion (Dhs3.7 billion) a year.
And according to RAK Airport director Andrew Gower, last year the emirate welcomed a flight a day from Germany - home to the world’s biggest spending tourists - and that’s being upped to twice a day this year.
“If you can attract the sun market, which the Germans tend to lead, then you can’t be going far wrong,” said 49-year-old Gower. “I think people recognise what Ras Al Khaimah has become as a destination.”
He added: “You’ve got new hotels, seas, mountains, the factories, the ports, hot springs, hot spas - I’ve been here since the start of the year and I’ve not even scratched the surface of what’s in Ras Al Khaimah. For a holidaymaker coming for two weeks, there’s so much more than you think.”