Redefining Tourism in the Era of Climate Change

An opinion piece by Sameh Muhtadi, CEO of RAK Properties

 

Ras Al Khaimah is fast emerging as a global must-visit destination, with highly ambitious tourism targets, and rightly so. Featured in Time magazine’s World’s Greatest Places of 2022 and CNN Travel’s best destinations to visit in 2023, the emirate welcomed more than 1.13 million visitors in 2022 – a 15.6 per cent increase on 2021 figures. Whilst RAK’s soar in popularity is extremely positive for the emirate’s tourism industry, it comes with its challenges – most notably, how can the sector ensure the continued protection of RAK’s natural environment and wildlife whilst successfully developing and managing its flourishing tourism activities?

It is not just developers that are passionate about delivering sustainable tourism. According to Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report, more than 75 per cent of people want to make their holiday travel more sustainable. Meanwhile, a 2021 report by travel firm Virtuoso revealed that 72 per cent of those surveyed believe that travel should support local communities and economies, preserve destinations’ cultural heritage and protect the planet. However, there are perceptions amongst tourists that sustainable travel is more expensive resulting in an increasing dilemma between conscience and cost.   As such, the onus is on developers and hotel operators to successfully balance sustainability with quality and value-for-money hospitality products.

So, what does it take for a destination to make sustainability its identity? Part of the equation is its visitors, our guests. Our strategy needs to be twofold. On one hand, decision-makers and the tourism industry stakeholders need to invest; they need to make bold decisions. On the other hand, guests need to be empowered to feel that they have a part to play in making tourism more sustainable. They are a vital part of the puzzle. The demand for a more responsible, balanced tourism is here, and we need to provide the necessary foundations that will enable travellers to act, to participate, to advocate. As a developer, it is our duty to place sustainability at the heart of our strategy. We are certainly investing towards it, but it’s vital that we take one step further and transform our guests into conscious, eco tourists. This is not an easy feat. And closing the ‘intention-action’ gap is, after all, a challenge that transcends tourism.

One of the first steps we must take is to drive a deep appreciation of the destination in question. From Wadi Shawka and the Hajar mountains to untouched coastlines and mangroves teeming with fish and flamingos, it’s easy for visitors to fall in love with the raw and natural beauty of Ras Al Khaimah. Educating tourists on the fragility of the habitat and its flora and fauna is crucial in driving a sense of accountability and shared responsibility around its preservation.  Encouraging guests to be ‘water-wise’, ditch single-use plastics, use responsible tour operators, buy local and not litter is, of course, important; however, guests must see their role within the context of a much bigger drive.

Delivering sustainable tourism requires concerted and collective effort from all stakeholders – from developers and hotel operators to transport firms, local attractions and of course the Government.  From employing sustainable building practices, to driving energy efficiency and reducing food waste, it is important to consider how to integrate sustainability best practices throughout the entire project lifecycle – from design to development and, not forgetting whole supply chains. This is a long-term and ambitious goal that requires substantial investment from each and every stakeholder. However, the potential consequences of inaction are too high.  We have a collective responsibility to do everything we can to reduce emissions and protect the environment from the emerging climate threat.

At RAK Properties, we are very transparent as to where the issues lie and what can be done to ensure we deliver a more sustainable tourism experience for our guests.  Our lands in Mina Al Arab are home to more than 7000 trees that support migratory bird patterns, whilst our development portfolio extends over two million square meters of protected mangroves.  To protect these in the long run, we have implemented a series of initiatives including changing our fleet of vehicles to electric or low emitting ones, placing solar panels on the roof of buildings where possible, LEED certifying our new Anantara hotel and creating a nursery to grow endemic species. We believe that creating long-term value and acting responsibly to protect the environment go hand-in-hand. The RAK Government have made impressive leaps in ensuring that the emirate becomes a leading destination for sustainable travel. Recently, RAK was awarded the Silver Certification under the Earth Check’s Sustainable Destination program – the world’s leading scientific benchmarking and certification program for tourism destinations.  Impressively, RAK is the first place in the Middle East to earn this level of recognition for sustainability.

We are incredibly lucky to have been blessed with an emirate that is as rich in nature and wildlife as it is in history and culture.  We are committed to supporting the Government to drive the continued advancement of RAK as the number one sustainable travel destination in the Middle East by 2025.  With tourism contributing to five per cent of Ras Al Khaimah’s GDP, RAK is set to create the blueprint for balanced tourism in the region and redefine sustainable tourism for the modern traveller who seeks to explore the world whilst leaving no trace behind.

https://www.rakproperties.ae