“Responsible growth and environmental stewardship can exist in harmony, by making smart changes from the ground up,” says Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) CEO Raki Phillips.

Phillips is attending World Travel Market 2023 (WTM) to discuss how the Emirate’s recent Silver Certification from EarthCheck, the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification, and advisory group for the tourism sector, is a testament to the destination’s commitment to becoming a regional leader in sustainable tourism by 2025. Ras Al Khaimah recently announced record-breaking arrivals between January and June 2023, a total increase of 14.8% versus H1 2022 and the highest-ever tourism-related revenue achieved for a half-year period. ​

The destination has also recently unveiled substantial additions to its hospitality portfolio, setting the stage for a conscientious expansion. Ras Al Khaimah’s recent recognition is a sustainability first for the Middle East and was underpinned by EarthCheck’s in-depth certification process which involves meticulous monitoring, benchmarking, and auditing across 10 sustainability indicators – from energy and water consumption to waste management, carbon footprint analysis and community engagement.

The Silver Certification coincides with the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, COP28, scheduled for late November in the UAE. This alignment closely reflects the conference's objective of achieving a 43% reduction in global emissions by 2030.

The Emirate’s recent certification is also in line with the broader context of the UAE’s ‘Year of Sustainability’ initiative, a commitment to focus on environmental sustainability by inspiring collective action through a nationwide commitment towards sustainable practices. At the forefront of this mission is Ras Al Khaimah's Balanced Tourism strategy, spearheaded by Phillips, which places the environment, culture, conservation, and quality of life at the heart of the Emirate's central investment and development plan.

The addition of renowned hotel brands such as Earth Hotels, Le Meridien, Nobu Hotels, and W by Marriott will boost the destination’s hospitality offering and fuel ambitious growth plans of doubling Ras Al Khaimah’s guest room capacity in the coming years, marking one of the highest growth rates in the region. This involves Wynn Al Marjan Island, a multi-billion-dollar integrated hospitality project.

The innovative resort will cover an area of almost 250,000 sqm and will feature more than 1,500 rooms, shopping, meeting, and convention facilities, a spa, more than 20 restaurants and lounges, extensive entertainment choices, a gaming area, and other amenities (opening 2027). Scheduled to open later this year, Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort will be home to 174 rooms, including overwater villas with private plunge pools and exclusive access to private beach cabanas.

“It's not just about expanding, it's about expanding responsibly,” says Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.

With a steadfast commitment to sustainable, balanced, and targeted development, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) has applied a considered approach to new hotel developments, consulting with hospitality partners to ensure thoughtful development and a measured pipeline to avoid rapid, less well-planned expansion and overcrowding. This has earned RAKTDA the accolade of being the first EarthCheck Silver-certified tourism destination in the Middle East - underlining its dedication to responsible tourism.

Ras Al Khaimah’s Silver certification also resonates deeply within the broader context of the UAE's 'Year of Sustainability' initiative and COP28, to be staged in the UAE this November.

The Sustainable Tourism Strategy Implementation Plan, known as "Responsible RAK," was collaboratively developed with EarthCheck as a certification program for Ras Al Khaimah tourism partners. It assesses hotels and attractions based on ten performance metrics to measure their sustainability initiatives such as energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, potable water consumption, etc.

Out of 26 tourism businesses part of the Responsible RAK program, 14 (54%) outperformed their regional competitors with many poised to attain Silver Certification by the end of 2023. Furthermore, in its role as the licensing authority for new hotel developments, RAKTDA sets out guidelines and protocols to oversee sustainability standards and collaborates closely with hotels to enforce these sustainable practices.

The 'Green Hotel Rating' initiative represents a concerted effort to achieve complete sustainability integration within all of Ras Al Khaimah's hotels. Raki Phillips, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority said: "We're thrilled with the success of our Balanced Tourism approach so far, along with the rapid growth of our hotel portfolio - and it's just the beginning.

“Doubling our guest room capacity is a testament to Ras Al Khaimah's allure as a global destination. However, as we expand, we remain dedicated in our commitment to sustainable tourism.

“We won't rest on our laurels; we'll continue innovating and setting new benchmarks in responsible travel, ensuring that the beauty of our Emirate endures for generations to come." In the pursuit of responsible tourism, Ras Al Khaimah is committed to preserving its natural treasures while catering to the growing community of conscientious travellers.

This long-term investment plan will protect and develop the Emirate’s four archaeological sites which are on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List and other key cultural projects. This includes Suwaidi Pearls, the only pearl farm in the UAE that still cultivates local pearls, all done by hand to preserve the Emirate’s culture and traditions.

In parallel, the Emirate is embracing accessible tourism and moving towards more inclusive travel. People with disabilities and special needs spend approximately £6.6 billion on tourism services annually, and the World Health Organisation estimates the number of people with disabilities will double to two billion by 2050.

The Authority has engaged with accessibility experts, Sage Inclusion, to map out the consumer journey from the eyes of the traveller with a determined spirit in a move to ensure that Ras Al Khaimah is on par with the best destinations for accessibility standards to cater to this important travel audience.

Taken together, the expansion of eco-conscious attractions is taking the Emirate a step closer to its goal of securing over three million annual visitors by 2030, whilst keeping balanced tourism at its core.