Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) since June 2019, brings a wealth of industry experience to aid the continued growth of Ras Al Khaimah as one of the fastest growing destinations in the world and will spearhead RAKTDA’s drive to attract 3 million visitors by 2025, while developing the Emirate’s tourism infrastructure, creating sustainable investment opportunities and enhancing the quality of life for Ras Al Khaimah’s residents.
Phillips is an award-winning hospitality veteran and serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience working with some of the world’s most renowned brands including Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Universal Studios Orlando. He was recognized & published by Hotelier Middle East as “Top 20 Most Powerful Arab Hoteliers”.
Phillips, an American national and a fluent Arabic speaker, has a great understanding of the region having worked in the Middle East since 2005 and specifically in the UAE since 2007.
Phillips joins RAKTDA, the authority tasked with establishing Ras Al Khaimah as a world-class destination for leisure and business travel, from the Dubai based International Hospitality Consulting Group INHOCO, where he was Senior Partner and Senior Vice President of Development. In this role he developed hotel project pipelines exceeding $5 billion in assets and negotiated multimillion-dollar hotel deals for global luxury brands in 12 countries and 26 markets.
As well as launching and developing hotels globally, Phillips is one of the Co-Founders of Earth Hotels a sustainable, tech-forward and design centric hotel concept.
Phillips is also an expert in the food & beverage sector and was behind several successful concepts including Hard Rock Live Orlando and Noire the Middle East’s first Dinner in the Dark restaurant. He is also the Co-Founder and former CEO of SugarMoo Desserts, Dubai’s first online dessert delivery bakery that has expanded from a home grown UAE concept to a popular regional brand in multiple countries including KSA & Oman.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and an MBA in Organizational Management.
We at Vivaah Weddings were privileged to interview him and gain his insights on destination weddings in Ras Al Khaimah.
1. Ras Al Khaimah has grown into a recognized destination globally in the recent past. What is the future vision for the emirate?
As an Emirate, we are honoured to be recognised as one of the fastest growing tourism destinations within the region, a privilege attained considering robust visitor demand, solid regional and international partnerships and iconic asset launches executed over the past few years. Ras Al Khaimah was further recognised as the Gulf Tourism Capital, which means that all major tourism and hospitality events within the GCC will be held in the Emirate in the upcoming period.
With this in mind, we are well on our way towards achieving our goal to welcome close to one and half million visitors to the Emirate by 2021 and three million visitors by 2025. The supply of hotel keys is a major focus moving forward to support the increasing popularity of the destination with both international and domestic tourists. The vision for the hospitality sector of the Emirate is to develop over 12,000 rooms by 2022, made achievable through strong ongoing partnerships with global brands.
Our adventure offerings stand to be expanded as well, through the opening of the Jais Sky Drop and the Bear Grylls Survival Camp, operated by Bear Grylls Survival Academy (BGSA). Earlier this year, we have unveiled the Jais Adventure Peak, a collection of iconic adventure attractions perched atop the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais. The Jais Adventure Peak captures Ras Al Khaimah’s adventurous spirit through a series of adrenaline-pumping experiences like; the Jebel Jais Flight, Jais Sky Tour and Jebel Jais Viewing Deck Park, in addition to the brand new Jais Adventure Center, which includes the highest restaurant in the UAE and Jais Sky Maze. On a cultural front, the coming years will see the restoration of key historical attractions, as well as a series of exciting activations and events, whereby residents of the UAE as well as guests to the nation, can deepen their appreciation for the rich heritage of Ras Al Khaimah and the country as a whole.
Ras Al Khaimah has also gained further recognition as an up and coming MICE destination in the region, paving the way for a promising future in this field. Numerous major events like the first World Travel & Tourism Council Middle East & North Africa Leaders Forum (WTTC) held in October 2019 and the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) that took place in April 2019, have been hosted at Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Center. Talks continue to bring future international conventions into the expanding events calendar. Aligned with the expansion of the events calendar, Ras Al Khaimah as also marked its presence on the sports circuit both regionally and internationally and will continue to grow this offering in upcoming years. Prestigious partnerships have led to the Emirate welcoming events such as the European Golf Challenge Tour, UAE Tour, Tough Mudder, Desert Warrior and Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, to the Emirate, and we look forward to adding further events of such high standing to our portfolio.
2. Could you please tell us how Ras Al Khaimah is preparing to welcome back tourists when the season opens up?
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority has implemented a series of Tourism Support Initiatives aimed at its leisure, hospitality and development partners during the challenging times currently faced, which will also serve as a strong groundwork to a sound future recovery. In addition to this, a four-step plan has been identified which initially prioritizes the domestic market, followed by the GCC and wider Middle East, to then be extended to Asia and Europe. The Emirate will also focus on the return of the Russian market as a key driver given its position as largest source destination in 2019. Promotional tools to be adopted during the domestic market phase of recovery is the UAE “Shortcation” Campaign, whereby guests staying three nights at Ras Al Khaimah hotels will receive two free tickets to attractions spanning the Jais Adventure Peak and the Suwaidi Peal Farm. The recovery stage also marks the return of the “Kids Go Free” promotion across hospitality and dining sectors, to encourage families to travel together, once the restrictions are lifted.
3. What can our lovely couples look forward to when considering Ras Al Khaimah as their wedding destination?
Ras Al Khaimah presents a diverse array of natural landscapes that appeal to those seeking exotic destination wedding, spanning the luxurious Marjan Island as well as the Emirate’s beaches, and golf courses serving as ideal outdoor venues. Given the plethora of internationally renowned five-star properties within the Emirate, such as the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah and the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Al Wadi Desert, guests will be able to realise their dream event in partnership with the seasoned inhouse teams.
In addition to the hospitality provider’s offerings, Ras Al Khaimah is home to Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Center, spanning a total area of 4,500m2. The architectural milestone has hosted an array of prestigious events and conferences and offers sweeping vistas of the sea as well as breathtaking garden views. The customizable space has proven well suited to hosting largescale events, as well as private events such as weddings.
4. How involved and supportive is the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) for wedding celebrations in the emirate?
As our tourism offering evolves in Ras Al Khaimah, we must ensure our destination is attractive to travellers who wish to explore beyond the resorts and hotels. Our MICE offering, including the destination wedding segment, is a key contributor to our Tourism Strategy 2019-2021. Therefore, we work closely with wedding planners and our hospitality partners to ensure their presence at key wedding and MICE focused events and promote their properties and bespoke packages both locally and internationally.
Ras Al Khaimah boasts a diverse array of natural landscapes that appeal to visitors seeking an exotic destination with fantastic hotels at value for money. These factors make Ras Al Khaimah most sought after for boutique weddings. Historical sites and outdoor locations, like beach, golf course as well as Ras Al Khaimah hotels are in demand and make perfect wedding venues.
5. Finally, a few words from you, for our couples out there, on these challenging times we all are facing at present.
COVID-19 is an issue affecting individuals and families around the world, however it is inspiring to see people coming together to support community wellbeing. Human safety is the UAE’s highest priority. We have full confidence in the steps that our leadership has already taken and those that they will take to safeguard the nation. We continue to be in close contact with all government authorities as the situation develops.
We diligently follow updates from the World Health Organization’s (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), and UAE federal authorities’ platforms for the latest developments, to tailor actions accordingly, and recommend that firms and individuals do the same. Through coming together, following the federal directives, we can continue to prioritize the safety of the community through these uncertain times.
We are confident that we will come out of this situation stronger and look forward to welcoming our visitors including couples who are looking for an exceptional destination wedding
For more information on how to plan your wedding in Ras Al Khaimah, please call us on +971 45141200 or WhatsApp us!