Ras Al Khaimah celebrates 10 years of economic and developmental innovation under His Highness Sheikh Saud
The UAE’s northern-most Emirate leads the way in pushing new frontiers for development. To highlight its progress, we’ve listed ‘10-in-10’: ten priorities for Ras Al Khaimah over the past ten years
Ras Al Khaimah has been a cornerstone of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s economic development since before the nation was founded in 1971. Famed for its rugged beauty and stunning panoramic vistas, Ras Al Khaimah has provided the raw ingredients for the country’s impressive rise on the global stage. It is rock extracted from Ras Al Khaimah’s spectacular mountainous terrain that has created the UAE’s powerhouse cities that are responsible for helping place the country firmly on the world map. However, as with all forms of progress, priorities change over the years. The UAE is now leading the way in creating a diversified economy based on knowledge and sustainability, with Ras Al Khaimah at the fore of this new direction.
This October marks the 10th anniversary of the accession of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, who has presided over a decade of important evolution in his Emirate. With His Highness leading the charge, we have listed ‘10-in-10’: ten areas that Ras Al Khaimah has prioritized over the past ten years to help it meet both its and the UAE nation’s goal of sustainable development, underpinned by a vibrant and dynamic knowledge economy.
1. Economic Progress
Ras Al Khaimah Government adopts a fiscally prudent approach to governance and is committed to improving the ease of doing business. The consolidated Government budget has been in surplus every year since 2010 and it follows conservative debt policies that ensure the debt-to-GDP ratio maintains a consistent downward trend.
The Government’s cooperative and institutional approach has made Ras Al Khaimah a haven for SMEs and big businesses, with more than 38,000 companies from 100 countries representing over 50 industries already here, taking advantage of the business licenses and services offered by either Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), Ras Al Khaimah Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Department of Economic Development (DED).
Investors who have chosen to set up shop in Ras Al Khaimah have benefited from lower costs of housing and labor, modern infrastructure and state-of-the-art facilities, as well as providing their employees with an excellent quality of life in an extremely safe environment with all the trappings of a major city, such as world-class hotels and attractions, though on a smaller and more inviting scale.
The business advantages have been quantified in recent years, with the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report ranking the Emirate 30th out of 190 economies for ease of doing business.
2. Free Zone Expansion
The two free zones that Sheikh Saud introduced in the early 2000s have, particularly in the past decade, helped the Emirate earn a mark in the global economic map as an ideal investment destination in the region.
Collectively, the free zones became among the leading business hubs in the UAE and, in 2017, they joined forced to become RAKEZ.
RAKEZ oversees six zones dedicated to various types of industries and is now home to more than 15,000 businesses across more than 50 sectors. These include many SMEs and also 770 world-leading manufacturers, such as Ahmad Tea, Knauf and Franke, to name but a few.
Its Academic Zone, for example, is playing a key role in the proliferation of high educational standards, with nine branch universities already set up, in addition to 5 schools and 112 training and education support services providers. Universities include the University of Stirling and the University of Bolton, both in the UK, and the Swiss research center EPFL.
3. Tourism & Hospitality Development
Another area of major progress in Ras Al Khaimah over the past 10 years has been in the tourism and hospitality sector. The Emirate has become known as a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the diversity of Ras Al Khaimah’s terrain – from rolling deserts, to beautiful beaches and imposing mountains – has allowed it to offer an array of differing activities in close proximity to each other.
Recognition of the Emirate’s achievements in this field came at the start of 2020 when the Gulf Cooperation Council named Ras Al Khaimah as the Gulf Tourism Capital 2020 – and for good reason.
The development of this sector has featured prominently in the Emirate’s overall strategy in the past decade and, in that time, there has been tremendous development, which is reflected in the number of tourist arrivals – up from 390,000 in 2011 to more than 1 million in 2019, with plans to reach 3 million by 2025.
With this expanding demand, the need for more hotels has come to the fore. In 1960, there were no hotels at all in Ras Al Khaimah and, for many decades, there were only one or two. However, in the past 10 years the Emirate has witnessed an upsurge in development, reaching 45 hotels with 6,433 keys and another 17 hotels in the pipeline that will provide more than 5,000 additional rooms.
One of the main areas where this development centers is Al Marjan Island, a group of four man-made islands in the south of Ras Al Khaimah that extend 4.5 kilometers into the Arabian Gulf. Officially opened in 2013, the project was a game-changer for the Emirate and it quickly became a hub of entertainment and tourist activity, with the DoubleTree Hilton Al Marjan Island, the Rixos Bab Al Bahr and the Marjan Resort and Spa by Accor the first three hotels to open.
The project’s extensive running and cycling tracks and 23 kilometers of waterfront have also made it a popular residential destination, with more than 2,300 residential units on the island, including Pacific Al Marjan Island, UniEstate Living Bay and Bab Al Bahr Residence, and it is now famed for hosting Ras Al Khaimah’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display, which have gained five Guinness World Records in the past three years, and for its hosting of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon.
Just a few kilometers north of Marjan Island sits Ras Al Khaimah’s foremost luxury hotel, the Waldorf Astoria. This 346-room behemoth of a hotel, which opened in 2013, is the definition of luxury, with its intricate interior design and its fine-dining options, while the nearby Ritz-Carlton Al Hamra and its Al Wadi sister location in the desert offer a secluded place to relax in the most wondrous of settings.
And, of course, you cannot talk about tourism in Ras Al Khaimah without mentioning how the development of the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais, has firmly placed the Emirate on the map as the region’s number one adventure tourism hub.
The launch of the world’s longest zip line by Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority in 2018 generated global headlines and precipitated a flurry of development that has seen an adventure park, hiking trails, rock climbing experiences and, most recently, a Bear Grylls Explorers Camp and the highest restaurant in the UAE, 1484 by Puro, all open on the mountaintop, with accommodation yet to come.
4. Lifestyle Upgrade
Al Hamra Village, which first opened in 2004, was Ras Al Khaimah’s first foray into real estate development and the area has subsequently grown into a thriving 77 million square feet community of about 10,000 residents living in more than 1,000 villas and almost 2,500 apartments at costs much more affordable than similar communities elsewhere. Built around a beautifully designed 18-hole golf course, Al Hamra Village has become a hit with tourists and residents alike, with its marina, mall, multiple restaurants and bars and some of the Emirate’s finest hotels.
A few kilometers north of Al Hamra Village lies the luxury beachside community of Mina Al Arab, developed by RAK Properties. The first phase of this stunning development, Granada, was handed over in 2010, with numerous other areas, such as Malibu, Bermuda and Flamingo, opening in the years since, making this community the mature development we see today.
At Mina Al Arab’s heart is nature. It is home to 2 million square meters of protected coastal wetlands and more than 7,000 trees support migrating birds, adding to the sense of relaxation. Two world-renowned hotel chains – Anantara and Intercontinental – are also currently under development, which when opened will further enhance the community’s standing.
And, of course, the aforementioned Al Marjan Island, with its extensive running and cycling tracks and 23 kilometers of waterfront, is another Ras Al Khaimah area where you can enjoy a nice lifestyle and not have to break the bank.
5. Digitalization and Communication
Since 2010, Ras Al Khaimah has been undergoing a digital transformation, in line with the UAE strategy to improve and digitize government services. The contrast between reams of paperwork and face-to-face service provision in 2010 to now is staggering.
The Electronic Government Authority is driving digitalization as a means to further improve and simplify services, to the extent that now more than 450 services from various Ras Al Khaimah Government departments have been transitioned into e-services available online.
In addition, the mRAK app now offers over 100 services, ensuring convenience, safety and high standards for businesses and the general public. The Emirate’s Environmental Protection and Development Authority has even rolled out the Estidama environmental app, which measures a user’s carbon footprint, showing the diversity of digital options now available in Ras Al Khaimah.
Of course, all these advances cannot reach their full potential unless everyone knows about them. To this end, Ras Al Khaimah Government Media Office has created an engagement program to reach out to the local, regional and international media to spread awareness about these and the other great developments taking place in the Emirate. The office strives to ensure that everyone hears about the array of benefits that Ras Al Khaimah has as a destination to live, work and play.
6. Quarrying & Transport Revolution
For more than 40 years Stevin Rock, together with RAK Rock, has been quarrying in the mountains above Ras Al Khaimah to extract quality limestone, dolomite and gabbro materials that are then taken by road or by sea from nearby Saqr Port across the UAE, the GCC countries, India and beyond to customers involved in the construction, cement, steel, mining, chemical and glass industries.
Burj Khalifa, the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Mall … all have been built using materials from these mountains. And as the solid reputation of RAK Rock and Stevin Rock has grown in recent years, so has the size of their business. Despite the push for diversification, quarrying remains an important bedrock of Ras Al Khaimah’s overall economic landscape.
In the past decade, the combined annual output of the two rock companies has grown from 48 million tons in 2010 to about 80 million tons now, making the sister companies among the largest rock producers in the world.
The proximity of RAK Ports’ Saqr Port, the largest bulk-handling port in the Middle East, means that the materials can be carried in an environmentally friendly manner by 10 kilometers of conveyor belts across the main highway and packed onto ships for transport around the region and beyond.
Descending down from the mountains, another transport option, in addition to the two superhighways that connect the Emirate with the rest of the UAE (E311 and E611), is Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, which last year went into partnership with India’s SpiceJet to become the airline’s first overseas hub.
The airport has become a key focal point in the repatriation of Indian expatriates during the current pandemic, allowing more than 53,000 people to return home on more than 300 flights in collaboration with the airline and the Indian Government.
It is also a hub for Air Arabia and has partnerships with a number of Middle Eastern and European airlines, meaning that in normal times there are flights from Ras Al Khaimah to locations as far afield as Moscow, Luxembourg, Warsaw, Cairo, Peshawar, Prague, Wroclaw, Katowice and Poznan, to name but a few.
7. Educational Advancement
Ras Al Khaimah has a proud history of academic achievement and through the wisdom of the late Sheikh Saqr, the Emirate was one of the first to establish an education system.
Sheikh Saud has continued in his father’s footsteps by championing education through the aforementioned Academic Zone, through the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, through scholarships and through the setting up of educational establishments.
One such institution is the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, which was established in 2009 and has grown from 38 students and 16 faculty to almost 1,000 students and 100 faculty today. The university has multiple tie-ins with universities in the United States and this year achieved a QS 5-star rating.
A group of its engineering students also this year witnessed the successful launch into space of a cube satellite that they built at the university’s own space lab with the support of the UAE Space Agency, an achievement that exemplifies just how far the institution has come in the past decade.
Another university to excel since its formation in 2006 is Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University, which started with just 22 students and now has almost 1,200, all of whom are studying to become medical professionals. The university has provided about 600 nurses to the UAE health sector, of which more than half are Emiratis, and it has also this year aided RAK Hospital to conduct about 1,000 Covid-19 tests a day.
The Al Qasimi Foundation has also played a vital role in the education sector in Ras Al Khaimah and the entire country in the past decade, with its insightful research and educational assistance to the community enabling improvements both locally and nationally.
More than 100 open-access, bilingual pieces of research have been published since 2010 and its various community programs have prepared over 650 gifted Emirati boys and girls for university, trained over 2,500 teachers and developed the skills of over 900 inmates at the Ras Al Khaimah Correctional Facility. All this in addition to the AED10 million in funding for scholarships that have enabled Ras Al Khaimah students and government employees to pursue advanced degrees over the past 10 years.
The Foundation’s Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival is also the largest outdoor art festival in the UAE, with the work of more than 110 artists being viewed by over 13,000 people in its eighth edition in February 2020.
8. Greater Historical Understanding
Ras Al Khaimah has an illustrious history that dates back some 7,000 years and it is one of the few places in the world that has been continuously inhabited for that entire duration.
At the center of the Emirate’s efforts to discover more about its past and preserve significant locations and artifacts is the Department of Antiquities & Museums, which has in the past 10 years taken on a number of projects, partnered with some established international institutions and uncovered some noteworthy finds.
A total of 20,000 artifacts have been documented by the department since 2010 and, in 2015, it embarked upon one of its landmark projects – the restoration of Al Jazirah Al Hamra, one of the last-surviving pearl diving and seafaring towns in the Arabian Gulf.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, more than 100 of its buildings, its fort, watchtowers and several mosques have been restored, and the area has become home to the aforementioned Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival.
Elsewhere, the department has been working since 2018 with a team from the Palace Museum, Beijing, to excavate several sites that are helping to trace the medieval trade relations between China and this region. The team has uncovered Chinese pottery that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century, highlighting that Julfar, the settlement that preceded Ras Al Khaimah, was a key trading post in the region at that time.
A similar collaboration with two U.S. universities led to the discovery of 4000-year-old human skeletal remains from large prehistoric tombs in the Emirate’s Shimal area, adding further insight and intrigue to Ras Al Khaimah’s storied past.
The archaeological findings have been of such significance that four sites in Ras Al Khaimah have been added to the UNESCO Tentative List for World Heritage, which could result in global recognition.
9. Environmental Progress
As with the preservation of history, Ras Al Khaimah is also conscious about ensuring the preservation of the natural environment and that development taking place in the Emirate is sustainable.
That is why the landmark Energy Efficiency & Renewables Strategy was put in place by Ras Al Khaimah Municipality in 2018 to ensure buildings are built in a sustainable way and that the Emirate as a whole does all it can to reduce its impact on the environment.
The strategy aims to cut energy use by 30%, water consumption by 20% and ensure 20% contribution from renewable energy sources by 2040 and several of its key strands have already taken effect, such as green building regulations for new buildings and a retrofit program for existing buildings, which aims to upgrade about 3,000 buildings with energy-saving solutions.
The Public Services Department also views improving the natural environment as fundamental to its role and, in the past decade, it has built more than 13 parks and walkways in different neighborhoods across Ras Al Khaimah, adding more than 660,000 square meters of green space.
In addition, the department launched the RAK Recycles initiative, which allows households across the Emirate to recycle packaging at home, while also opening five recycling centers at various locations and five food waste centers.
Ras Al Khaimah also plays host to the biennial International Conference on Global Warming, organized by the Environmental Protection and Development Authority, an entity that has developed almost 30 initiatives in an effort to achieve 11 goals by 2030.
The initiatives include multiple educational activities with school students, the One Million Trees initiative, which aims to plant that number of trees to help reduce the Emirate’s carbon footprint, the Estidama environmental app, which measures a user’s carbon footprint, various projects aimed at preserving the marine environment and the Sustainable Agriculture program, which delivers desalinated water to 120 farms across Ras Al Khaimah.
10. Healthcare Revolution
Over the past 10 years Ras Al Khaimah’s healthcare institutions have progressed from providing primary healthcare services to the local population to now welcoming to its shores medical tourists who wish to take advantage of the advanced healthcare options available.
A large part of this advancement is thanks to RAK Hospital, which opened in 2007 with just five doctors and now has 75 doctors with a variety of specialties in a vastly expanded facility. From about 100 patients a day in its first years, RAK Hospital now cares for between 800 to 900 outpatients a day, highlighting the trust the facility has built among the local community.
The hospital now provides a variety of surgeries, including cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, spine surgery, orthopedic surgery, to both the local community and medical tourists.
In addition to the main Government Saqr Hospital, the Emirate has developed an extensive network of healthcare facilities, including the state-of-the-art Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital, which was built by the federal Ministry of Health and is managed by Seoul National University Hospital.
The 246-bed hospital specializes in oncology, cardiovascular and neuroscience and its operating theater has 10 sophisticatedly designed, spacious operating rooms as well as a Magnetic Resonance (MR) room that allows for sophisticated surgery to be performed.
Whereas a decade ago, many in Ras Al Khaimah would travel for medical treatment, the Emirate now has the capacity and know-how to cater to all the healthcare needs of the community on their doorstep.
So there you have it: A decade’s worth of innovation led by His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. Under His Highness’s remarkable stewardship, Ras Al Khaimah has played – and continues to play – a vital role in ensuring the UAE’s impressive march up important global rankings. By creating a resilient, flexible and diverse economy underpinned by buoyant sectors in education, healthcare, technology, industry and tourism, Ras Al Khaimah is proving instrumental in the UAE’s ambition to be a 21st leader among nations.