Ras Al Khaimah is not currently included on the itineraries of any cruise ships homeporting in the Arabian Gulf for at least the 2018 and 2019 cruise seasons, although it has been included in ad hoc port calls over the years.
“Ras Al Khaimah has been receiving cruise ship visits since 2000 when the small expedition ship ‘Shearwater’ called into Mina Saqr. The berths at Khor Ras Al Khaimah have also received similar sized vessels despite cruise visits not being a targeted market for the Emirate,” says Tony Walsh, an Oman based cruise expert and the author of ‘Bradt Guide to Oman‘.
This is a state of affairs that the ruler of the emirate wants to change.
One of the seven emirates of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah has identified cruise tourism as a key pillar in the future development of the country’s northernmost emirate. To start with, it has begun development of the city’s first cruise terminal, a 1,000sqm terminal building that will stand on 860m of quay wall, enabling multiple cruise ships to dock simultaneously.
Initially, it will be able to handle ships up to 214m in length and the creek and entry channel to the port has been dredged to 7.5m to accommodate larger cruise ship’s greater draft.
The plans will likely see Ras Al Khaimah transformed into a popular port of call on the Dubai cruise run. The city has until now only been visited by smaller, boutique cruise ships, such as Island Sky, operated by Noble Caledonia. Tony Walsh, the Oman-based travel journalist and author of ‘Bradt Guide to Oman’, was aboard one such cruise in 2011.
In 2011 I enjoyed 😀a visit with the small cruise ship🛳️ Island Sky to Ras Al Khaimah and berthed in the Khor Ras Al Khaimah🇦🇪 خور رأس الخيمة
we organized 4×4 excursions ⛰️for the ship’s passengers. pic.twitter.com/yWE7nDpAZ5
— TonyWalsh❄️توني والش (@TonyWalsh_me) December 24, 2017
“RAK Ports is working closely with RAK Tourism & Development Authority in partnership to ensure that we provide the passenger the right experience and shore excursion opportunities and programs will be developed and shared with cruise lines over the next few months,” Justin Wardle, Port Operations Manager at RAK Ports, told Seatrade Cruise News.
The new Ras Al Khaimah Cruise Terminal is scheduled to open in February, 2018. It has been converted from the existing passenger ferry terminal, with new state-of-the-art security measures such as facial recognition CCTV, luggage and personal baggage X-Ray machines and metal detectors installed. Eight new e-gates and eight immigration officer desks have also been added in December.
The new upscale cruise terminal will feature a concierge service, Wi-Fi and duty-free retail shopping.
The architectural style of the exterior of the building is in keeping with traditional Arabic design, synonymous with many of the buildings located in the historical Old Town of Ras Al Khaimah – and in particular the Ras Al Khaimah Museum, which is just a few minutes walk from the city centre cruise terminal.
With 64-kilometres of coastline, pristine desert and mountain landscapes and a spate of new international hotel brands opening along its ‘tourist strip’, Ras Al Khaimah is a new holiday destination within the UAE, popular with expats and some overseas tourists, but it is now planning to up its game.
Haitham Mattar, CEO of RAK Dept of Tourism said: “We identified the cruise segment as a key part of the strategy, and ever since then we’ve been working on developing the infrastructure to promote our cruise tourism proposition.”
The emirate received 828,772 tourists last year and is on target to attract one million visitors annually by end of 2018.
“In the last two years we have been focusing on the international diversification of our visitor source markets, from which we continue to see double digit growth, as we promote our offering to the three key leisure segments, including active adventurers, wellness seekers and cultural explorers,” says Mattar.
“I feel that with the distinct difference between Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai or Abu Dhabi the Emirate will have little difficulty in exceeding its intended 1 million visitors before 2020,” adds Walsh.