Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) occupies a strategic location in the heart of the Middle East on the busy Strait of Hormuz and is the furthest north of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Boasting the UAE’s longest coastline, Ras Al Khaimah translates from Arabic to English as “the top of the tent” due to its position, and is the most scenic of the Emirates with landscape ranging from fertile plains, mountains, desert regions and kilometres of untouched coastline and white sandy beaches.
The government has been initiating infrastructure development projects within the framework of its growth plans for the Emirate, for example, there are plans for a 700km long trans-Emirate railway which will cost USD 3 billion to build at current estimates. The planned railway, which is expected to be complete in 2015, will link all seven Emirates with the border of Saudi Arabia and reduce the travel time between RAK and Dubai to 20 minutes. Emirates Railway system is widely expected to increase the population of Dubai’s neighbouring Emirates as employees look for affordable properties and rents within commutable distances. This will put upward pressure on property prices within these regions. Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, one of six international airports within the UAE, is undergoing an expansion program with 5 new terminals being added by 2020. RAK port is to also undergo an AED 110 million expansion which will increase its handling capacity by five times. A fourth port for RAK was approved in 2006 and is expected to cost AED 30 million.
The Emirates’ aim is to acquire a larger share of the tourism market in the UAE and has undertaken various initiatives to achieve this. From 2006 to 2007, the number of tourist arrivals into Ras Al Khaimah increased by approximately 40%, from 500,000 to about 700,000.The Majority of these visitors were from Germany, France, Italy and the UK. The Emirates also recorded an average hotel occupancy level of 93% throughout 2007. The aim now is to increase the number of people visiting RAK to 2.5 million by the year 2012.
RAK has benefited from both the overall growth of the UAE and its own proactive approach to diversification and investment generation. Despite the discovery of oil in the UAE in the 1960s and the consequent prosperity it brought, Ras Al Khaimah has so far only found a small percentage of the reserves, and therefore not enjoyed a boom similar to some of the other Emirates. In 2007, a study concluded that Ras Al Khaimah only had 0.5% of the UAE’s entire oil reserves. This has led to RAK focusing on encouraging foreign investment in new areas such as real estate, tourism development as well as more traditional areas including agriculture and manufacturing. The population of the Emirate has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years, from 43,845 in 1975 to approximately 250,000 in 2007.16 The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by approximately 36% from around USD 2.5 billion in 200517 to USD 3.4 billion in 2007.
The Emirates’ per capita income in 2008 was approaching USD16,000. This is remarkable considering that unlike its neighbours Ras Al Khaimah depends so little on its oil. It also has very little debt, estimated at 16.5% of GDP at the end of 2007.
Ras Al Khaimah joined the UAE Federation in October 1972 together with the six other Emirates, each of which are ruled by a hereditary monarch and historically has been an important maritime trading centre in the Gulf. Sheikh Saqr bin Muhammad Al Qasimi has ruled since 1948 which makes him one of the longest serving rulers in the world today.He has played a pivotal role in the stabilisation and development of Ras Al Khaimah since he came into power. Recent efforts to diversify Ras Al Khaimah’s economy stem from the inauguration of the Ruler’s son, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, as Crown Prince in 2003. Since then, the Emirate has embarked on an aggressive development programme. Fore more information please