Raj Bhatt, CEO, Hozpitality Group interviewed Haitham Mattar, CEO, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).
Since starting his career in hospitality in 1987, Mattar has held senior roles with global hotel brands, including Marriott, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Hilton Worldwide.
As CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, Mattar is responsible for Ras Al Khaimah's brand positioning, destination marketing and growth strategy. Since Haitham has assumed the role of CEO, Ras Al Khaimah has recorded rapid economic progress and unprecedented growth in tourism figures.
Raj:- Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority is all over the news these days, tell us more about your adventure tourism offerings to the world.
Haitham:- “Since launching the Destination Ras Al Khaimah 2019 vision last year, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has been working to stimulate sustained growth across the emirate’s tourism industry through various initiatives and launches. As we look to achieve our one million visitor target by the end of 2018, we are developing new products and enhancing existing ones to attract a greater range of travellers to Ras Al Khaimah.
“From the country’s highest mountain peak, date farms, bedouin oasis, and authentic Arabian culture and heritage, Ras Al Khaimah provides an experience suited for every kind of traveller.
“Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the industry and an area we have already received significant success in. Through our sustainable development of Jebel Jais, and the introduction of the Jebel Jais Via Ferrata last year, and pending opening of the World’s Longest Zip Line, new hiking trails and mountain biking trails, Ras Al Khaimah has established itself as an emerging active nature based adventure destination. These products will propel the emirate into the highest divisions of adventure tourism, securing Jebel Jais and Ras Al Khaimah in the ultimate adventure destination league.
“Through all our projects and planned launches, it is important that we safeguard Ras Al Khaimah’s natural charm and heritage, supported through our partnership with UNWTO as a sponsor of the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.”
Raj: We heard about the upcoming product launches such as the Viewing Deck and World’s Longest Zip Line, could you elaborate?
Haitham: “The Viewing Deck is an upcoming product that I am extremely proud of. The sustainable family-friendly development allows for everyone to be able to experience the majestic nature of Jebel Jais. Suitable for people of all ages, the area will feature food trucks, picnic benches and spectacular views of the UAE and the borders of Oman. Not only that, you will also be able to watch zipliners coming down the World’s Longest Zip Line, also set to launch in the next few months!
The zip line is a key product launch for Ras Al Khaimah and will further enhance its unique mountain-beach-desert offering. Once we achieve the Guinness World Record as the longest and highest zip line, it will form a very successful tool in strengthening the awareness of the destination globally.”
Raj : Why should a visitor come to your hotels in Ras Al Khaimah, what is special here?
Haitham: “Ras Al Khaimah has a real charm that is prominent in all corners of the unique emirate. In addition to offering fantastic value for money, RAKTDA has focused on promoting our amazing natural landscapes, including 64km of pristine beaches; terracotta desert; abundant wildlife, nature, the highest mountain terrain in the UAE, that are 10 degrees cooler and uninterrupted sunsets; as well as the amazing hotel facilities, spas, kids’ clubs, chilled pools and diverse culinary options that appeal to all types of visitors.
“Following a Nielson study carried out earlier this year, which polled visitors to Ras Al Khaimah, hotel facilities, tour operations and attractions each led satisfaction rates; receiving similar positive feedback with 88 per cent, 87 per cent and 84 per cent saying they were either very satisfied, or satisfied, respectively.”
Raj: How do you work with the partner hotels and what is special for hotel companies willing to invest in setting up in RAK?
Haitham: “As Ras Al Khaimah draws closer to reaching its target of one million visitors by the end of 2018, the need for quality hotel rooms has never been so important. While the emirate already boasts a wealth of hospitality brands, with more to come online over the next few years, we are working closely with travel and tourism stakeholders to ensure we attract the right brands and accommodation options to support sustainable growth across the emirate. Currently offering just over 5,000 hotel rooms, Ras Al Khaimah’s increasing hotel and resort portfolio is expected to grow by more than 4,000 rooms by 2020.”
Raj: How do you see yourself in the next five years, will Expo 2020 bring in business to Ras Al Khaimah also?
Haitham: “Destination Ras Al Khaimah 2019 is the first tourism strategy for Ras Al Khaimah. It sets out a clear roadmap for growing our tourism in the years ahead. As the product of extensive research into consumer insights, the strategy enables us to lead our industry and many stakeholders to deliver our common goals through 2019 and beyond.
“Our strategy aims to bring one million tourists to Ras Al Khaimah by the end of 2018 and 2.4 –to 2.9 million by 2025, focusing on three key tourist segments beyond the traditional leisure market seeking sun and sand. These segments are active adventurers, cultural explorers, and luxury indulgence and wellness seekers.
“The emirate has witnessed significant growth in visitors over the last nine months, with the Q3 results recording a growth in guest nights by 12.4 per cent. Similarly, length of stay came in at 3.55 days – a growth of nine per cent. These are figures that support our goals and places the emirate in a solid position for sustained growth in the years ahead.
Raj: Do you offer special incentives to home grown and local brands?
Haitham: “RAKTDA works closely with other government bodies to ensure the emirate as a whole supports new business initiatives that contribute to the betterment of our residents and visitors. A key area of development that RAKTDA is directly invested in is the stimulation of hotel and resort growth. To accommodate the expected visitor growth, we are working with a number of potential investors to provide a range of innovative opportunities to develop stand out properties across the emirate.”
Raj: How do you take care of your partners and team?
Haitham: “A key area of supporting my team in their roles is to ensure that they are aligned with the Authority’s strategy, vision and goals. This promotes a collaborative environment that encourages team work to achieve what we promise to set out to do, no matter how ambitious. Secondary, but by no means less important, is to create the right working environment that keeps them motivated and driven to develop creative ideas. From projects ranging to the launch of new destination products in the mountains, to organizing world class events that bring together the visitors and the community, I make sure that my team and our stakeholders have everything they need to achieve success. To support all that we do, right from the start, we ensure that everything we do is informed by research and studies followed by creative development.”
Raj: You have won many awards, what are they for?
Haitham: “RAKTDA has had an incredibly successful year in regards to awards, being awarded a number of accolades from around the world. One of our most recent successes was the GCC’s Tourism & Hospitality Company of the Year at the prestigious Gulf Business Awards 2017. This was a very important win for us as it confirms the momentous year we have had in Ras Al Khaimah with increased visitor numbers and the plans to launch adventure tourism products which will further improve tourism for all. It also further underlines the hard work and enthusiasm put in by the RAKTDA team to position the emirates as a unique beach-desert-mountain destination.
“We have also been recognised as the Best Arabian Tourism Board among its peers in the region at the Arabian Travel Awards. This further demonstrates the work the team are putting in and is a huge achievement for both RAKTDA and their stakeholders.”
Raj: How are you different from the other Emirates in UAE?
Haitham: “The UAE has transformed over recent years to provide a wealth of experiences for both travellers and residents, and we have positioned Ras Al Khaimah to support visitor growth to complement our neighbouring emirates. Featuring the country’s tallest mountain peak, Ras Al Khaimah is well positioned to capitalise on our natural assets, while ensuring this is carried out in sustainably.”
Positioning RAK as the future Middle East Adventure Hub, is what will give us the greatest differentiator and help in us complementing what the other Emirates are promoting.
Raj:-Ok, I will ask you 5 questions and you have to answer quickly whatever thought comes to your mind first…
What was your very first JOB?
Haitham:- Dishwasher !
Raj:-Your wife makes the best food for you always. Once you do not like the food she cooked for you, what would you do?
Haitham:- I’m actually a good cook myself and I am the cook at home over the weekends.
Raj:- Hot tea or cold Coffee?
Haitham:- Always hot green tea
Raj:- Ras Al Khaimah or Dubai? Which do you like better?
Haitham:- Both are dear to my heart. But RAK has become home to me.