Often dubbed the Las Vegas of the Gulf, but in reality, it’s Ras Al Khaimah, or “RAK” for short. This tiny Arab emirate, located to the north of the UAE, is gaining recognition for its unique and diverse natural beauty, a surprising feature in a desert region. Here, white sandy beaches and palm trees harmoniously coexist with mountain peaks, creating an alpine-like landscape.
A QUITIER HAVEN FOR BILLIONAIRES
Under the leadership of Sheikh Saud, who received his education in Michigan, and his daughter Sheikha Amneh Al Qasimi, a graduate of Stanford Business School, the emirate has become a less flashy haven for billionaires compared to its neighboring Dubai. The question that naturally arises is whether this tranquility will endure. The ambitious strategy of attracting foreign direct investments continues to bear fruit, with the construction of luxury villas and hotels, and tens of thousands of foreign businesses registered with the local chamber of commerce. The latest news on this front tells us that a Las Vegas-based company (Wynn Resorts Ltd) is planning a $3.9 billion gaming resort. Sunreef Yachts, known for its luxurious catamarans loved by Nadal and Alonso, has also announced plans to produce them in RAK, with an initial investment of 30 million euros.
AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO INVESTMENT
As part of the strategy to attract wealth, the government is considering a visa or citizenship program for those interested in investing in the country and the UAE in general. The goal is to encourage stable residence in the region. Additionally, a free zone dedicated to companies dealing in digital assets is in development. Izzat Dajani, a former senior banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and founder of the Ras Al Khaimah Investment and Development Office, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, tells Bloomberg that “the government will look at capital return from multiple perspectives: financial return, social return, and cultural return.”
In 2022, the emirate welcomed over 1.1 million visitors, a 16% increase from 2021, with a 40% rise in foreign tourists, primarily from Russia (thanks to direct flights), Kazakhstan, and the UK. The government hopes to soon add Chinese tourists to the mix.
FROM TOURISM TO GAMBLING, RAS AL KHAIMAH A REVOLUTION IN PROGRESS
The Wynn Resorts project would position Ras Al Khaimah among the two top global gambling destinations, Macao and Las Vegas. However, gambling is prohibited by Islamic religion, and questions arise regarding possible exceptions. According to a study commissioned by the government to Ernst & Young, which examined the potential impact of a gaming center, RAK could potentially quadruple the number of annual tourists by 2030, while the population would increase by 250,000, from the current 400,000 to 650,000 (the UAE has a total population of over 9 million).
FROM REAL ESTATE TO SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
Among the hotels already present in the area are InterContinental Hotels Group, Mövenpick, and Radisson. Their openings have increased the number of rooms to over 8,000. Another 19 properties are in the pipeline, including Westin and Nobu, which will increase the room count to 6,000 in the coming years. Many of these hotels are located along the beach, adhering to the classic idea of sea, sun, and sand.
However, Ras Al Khaimah also offers a type of sports and nature-based tourism, unlike Dubai. Visitors can go trekking in the mountain range that marks the border with Oman or experience the thrill of riding a bob. The emirate is also home to the Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline, where you can experience the thrill of “flying” at speeds of up to 120-150 kilometers per hour. Beyond gambling and beachfront hotels, the country cannot overlook the development of this type of ecological tourism if it aims to become the most sustainable emirate by 2025 and the most livable by 2030.
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