MANY MEDIUMS

Ras Al Khaimah 2018 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW

Ras Al Khaimah is in the midst of a number of expansion projects as the Emirate looks to draw new visitors by land and sea.

As Ras Al Khaimah continues to grow, develop, and become a destination for tourism, business, and education, the continued improvement of the Emirate's transport infrastructure is one of the government's top priorities. At present, Ras Al Khaimah's relies heavily upon Dubai's airport to bring in international visitors, but plans are underway to increase capacity at RAK International Airport to make the Emirate a more easily accessible destination for visitors. On the coast, Saqr Port is already the largest bulk-handling port in the Middle East, and late 2017 saw the beginning of an expansion project to increase cargo capacity. The government has also installed a new boutique cruise terminal at Ras Al Khaimah Port.

Ras Al Khaimah is the UAE's fourth-busiest Emirate for air travel, behind Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. Recent years have seen significant passenger and cargo volume increases as the Emirate has begun to play a larger role in the GCC. 2016 saw RAK International register a 52% rise in passenger traffic, with just over 470,000 people passing through. In the same year cargo almost doubled to 3,700 tons moved over the year. These gains came largely thanks to key regional airlines Air India Express and Air Arabia, which also established routes directly to Ras Al Khaimah, allowing for increased passenger volumes. 2017 saw continued growth, with the airport opening up its first direct lines to Europe via SmartWings, Enter Air, Travel Service, Ural Airlines, and Red Wings. As a result, volume continued to rise; passenger numbers were up 6% through the first quarter of 2017 and cargo routes up 30%.

Not content to rest on its laurels, Ras Al Khaimah's leadership is looking to launch expansion projects that will grow capacity from the current level of 1.5 million passengers per year to 3.5 million. In 2016, the airport's chief executive announced plans for an expansion that would add six new gates and increase retail space by 40%. A tender was issued in 2017, and construction is currently underway. To increase efficiency and lower processing times, Ras Al Khaimah has also begun utilizing technological improvements at arrival and immigration centers and now offers amenities such as remote check in, free Wi-Fi, and e-gate facilities, and a new business lounge is expected soon. The Emirate's leaders understand that Dubai's airport will remain the UAE's hub for the foreseeable future, and in early 2018, introduced a shuttle bus for tourists from Dubai International to Ras Al Khaimah. At AED20 for a one-way ride, the shuttle can be booked online and will bring visitors directly to hotels and destinations in Ras Al Khaimah.

At sea, Ras Al Khaimah is working to solidify its position as a hub for shipping. Saqr Port is the Middle East's largest bulk-handling port; most of the 60 million cargo tons that enter Ras Al Khaimah by sea come through it. The port has seen volume half over the past five years, and technological improvements have seen turnaround times double as well, ensuring that the port continues to move smoothly. In August 2017, construction began on an expansion to increase Saqr Port's cargo capacity via the dredging and construction of a new quay wall. Ras Al Khaimah Port, located closer to the city, is key to Ras Al Khaimah's cruise tourism ambitions. Through 2017, the port underwent significant renovations in order to accommodate luxury cruise ships up to 214m long. The port's terminal building was turned into a boutique cruise passenger terminal, and new retail and immigration facilities were added to help turn the Emirate's transport points into the high-end facilities needed to meet the government's goal of 1 million visitors annually by 2019.