AUTHENTIC ARABIA

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Yannis Anagnostakis, CEO of RAK Hospitality Holding, on potentially diversifying the company's portfolio, the attractions on offer in the Emirate, and his outlook for the sector.

Yannis Anagnostakis
BIOGRAPHY
Yannis Anagnostakis has over 22 years of experience in international five-star and luxury hospitality. After obtaining a degree at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland, he held various managerial and executive roles in hotel operations, project management, estate management, and hotel development. Prior to joining RAK Hospitality Holding, Anagnostakis was employed by Hilton International in Athens, London, Durban, and Cairo; the InterContinental Hotels Group in Miami, San Francisco, Toronto, and Dubai; and the Jumeirah Group in New York and Dubai.

RAK Hospitality Holding signed an agreement with American Kona Grill to open six restaurants across the UAE. What is the reason behind this move?

Hakaya Collection, our lifestyle division focusing on entertainment, leisure, dining, and retail leasing, is an engine for company growth for multiple reasons. For our first venture outside the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, we chose to partner with a reputable and well-established brand rather than create our own. We have done this with the five home-grown outlets based in Ras Al Khaimah, and we thought it would be logical to take the business to the next level. Kona Grill is listed on NASDAQ, which was an additional attraction to choose this brand over other options. Together we agreed on a development and franchise agreement that is sustainable, feasible, and well thought out. We plan to open three outlets in Dubai, two in Abu Dhabi, and one in Ras Al Khaimah over a period of seven years and we are on track to open our first Kona Grill in the 1H2017 in Dubai.

Would you consider further diversifying your portfolio?

Our existing hotel assets are already in diverse locations; we have properties in the north and the south of the Emirate, the beach, the desert and the historic city center, right on the creek. As our portfolio is currently positioned in the luxury, upper upscale, and upscale market segments, we would potentially like to venture into extended stay, such as hotel apartments, and the mid-scale segment for leisure and business travelers. Jabal Jais offers a very natural platform for ecotourism and there are other significant attractions across the Emirate. There are plenty of development opportunities and we will identify the right ones at the right time.

How does Ras Al Khaimah complement the tourism offering of Dubai and Abu Dhabi?

Even though each Emirate is promoted separately by its tourism authority, as a whole we offer compelling reasons to visit to a diverse clientele. Each Emirate is beginning to position itself accordingly, and Ras Al Khaimah has done the same. The reason our visitors come here is because of the Emirate's natural beauty and its sense of authentic Arabia. We are a unique escape for residents of the UAE as well; close to 50% of our business comes from the neighboring Emirates. We serve as an ideal destination for short breaks and family escapes to residents within the UAE. However, other nationalities choose Ras Al Khaimah for different reasons, such as longer but peaceful vacations or adventure tourism. One of the ways we complement the other Emirates is through our cultural and heritage attractions, such as the village of Al Jazeerah Al Hamra, where archaeologists are doing incredible work.

What is your outlook for the tourism sector in the medium term?

On the back of some terrific results last year with hotels reporting 6% growth in revenue per available room (RevPAR), 1Q2016 has been even more successful with RevPAR growth reaching 9.2%. Our RAK National Hotels portfolio recorded an impressive 16% growth for 2015 and 16.4% growth for 1Q2016. These are quite impressive numbers and support our investment plans. We are on a growth trajectory and are extremely optimistic about the rest of 2016, but also for the years to follow because certain decisions and activities that came to fruition last year are expected to yield results in years to come. RAK TDA has set a target to reach 1 million visitors by 2019. Based on our numbers and the growth in the number of visitors we are experiencing month after month, we are confident that we will meet this target. Our supply is not excessive; a market is always made up of supply and demand. The pipeline of projects to 2019 is expected to add another 3,000 keys and from there, there is plenty of room for growth.