CEO Raki Phillips Discusses Ras Al Khaimah’s Success

In an era where sports and tourism intertwine to create unparalleled experiences, Ras Al Khaimah stands as a beacon of success in the realm of global sporting events and sustainable tourism.

We had the distinct privilege to sit down with Raki Phillips, the visionary CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), whose dynamic leadership has spearheaded the transformation of this picturesque emirate into a world-renowned destination for athleticism, adventure, and natural beauty.

Avidly committed to showcasing Ras Al Khaimah’s innate charm, Raki Phillips provided an in-depth perspective on the emirate’s journey to prominence in hosting prestigious global sports events. His insights illuminate the symbiotic relationship between sports and tourism, revealing how these events have catalyzed economic growth, community engagement, and the pursuit of sustainable excellence.

As the forthcoming 2023 WMF Minifootball World Cup, the first of its kind in the Middle East, garners excitement from enthusiasts worldwide, Raki Phillips shares his reflections on this monumental achievement and its profound impact on the region’s cultural fabric and international stature.

In this exclusive interview, Raki Phillips delves into the strategic initiatives, sustainable practices, and community-driven aspirations that underpin Ras Al Khaimah’s thriving sports and tourism landscape. As the CEO of RAKTDA, his unwavering dedication to fostering inclusivity, sustainability, and the spirit of athletic competition shines through. Join us as we uncover the captivating narrative of Ras Al Khaimah’s journey to becoming a global hub for sports tourism, as narrated by the visionary leader himself.

CEO Raki Phillips Discusses Ras Al Khaimah's Success

How has Ras Al Khaimah been successful in building a strong track record for hosting global sports events? What efforts have Ras Al Khaimah made to establish itself as a leading sports and athletic destination?

Sports events are a key pillar of our strategy and a great contributor to our continued growth. Last year alone, Ras Al Khaimah staged 50 events that were broadcasted in more than 180 countries, including RAK Half Marathon, the fastest half marathon in the world, the UAE Tour, the DP World Tour Golf Championship, Gumball 3000 car rally, the Highlander multi-day backpacking and hiking event, and Desert Warrior Challenge.

2023 is looking like it will be another blockbuster year for sports in Ras Al Khaimah, with many of these returning to the Emirates as well as new ones set to take place for the first time like the highly anticipated WMF Minifootball World Cup, which will be hosted in the Middle East for the first time ever.

In addition to putting Ras Al Khaimah on a global sporting stage, events like this also provide an opportunity for us to come together as a local community and enhance the liveability of Ras Al Khaimah, which is also part of our broader vision.

The UN’s World Tourism Organization estimates that the industry will reach £700 billion by 2025, with sports tourism playing a significant role. How has hosting sports events impacted tourism in the region?

The Middle East is becoming the world’s fastest-growing sports tourism destination valued at an estimated $600bn, according to the World Trade Organisation. The impact of sports events on tourism is transformational as we saw across the region during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The number of regional flights soared, hotels were booked to capacity and demand for transportation, activities, restaurants, excursions, and shopping all skyrocketed with some estimates putting the average spend by travellers in the UAE at around £4,000.

Sporting events like the 2023 WMF World Cup are certainly a powerful catalyst that contributes to tourism rebound and provide great opportunities to showcase Ras Al Khaimah as a leading nature, adventure and sporting destination to the thousands of spectators that come to the Emirate to enjoy these events and the many thousands more who tune in to watch them.

Could you share some insights into the economic landscape of Ras Al Khaimah and how sports events have contributed to its growth? How does Ras Al Khaimah plan to combine sport and sustainability in its national tourism strategy?

Tourism is the fastest-growing sector in Ras Al Khaimah. It currently accounts for about 5% of Ras the Emirate’s GDP. Our goal is to raise its contribution to account for a third of the GDP in the years to come through future-proofed, dynamic, and agile strategies that are primed to propel Ras Al Khaimah as a destination of the future.  And placing sustainability in all aspects of development is crucial to our continued growth.

Sports events organised with sustainability in mind play a significant role in boosting the tourism sector, attracting investments, engaging the local communities, and enhancing the Emirate’s global reputation as a vibrant destination for sports enthusiasts, contributing to its overall economic growth.

Hosting the region’s first Minifootball World Cup is a significant milestone. How did Ras Al Khaimah secure the opportunity to host this major international competition?

Ras Al Khaimah won the highly competitive bid to stage the 2023 Minifootball World Cup in 2022 with the World Minifootball Federation (WMF) selecting the destination over other impressive contenders, including Manila and Budapest. Ras Al Khaimah was chosen for its ability to offer a diverse tourist experience and its proven track record in hosting successful global sporting events. Previous championships were held in the United States, Tunisia and Australia, and we are honoured to join such a prestigious list of nations.

CEO Raki Phillips Discusses Ras Al Khaimah's Success

We consider this a major win for the community, not only in Ras Al Khaimah, but the UAE and wider Middle East region, and we have the full support of all stakeholders in orchestrating what we believe will be the most comprehensive, collaborative and community engaging WMF World Cup to date.

What can we expect from the 2023 Minifootball World Cup in Ras Al Khaimah, and how will it elevate the status of the Emirate as a destination for athleticism and major sporting events?

Taking place from October 26th to November 4th, the 2023 Minifootball World Cup is set to be a spectacular event bringing together 32 national teams and thousands of spectators from all over the world to Ras Al Khaimah. In addition to the on-field action, visitors will be able to enjoy the amazing attractions of Ras Al Khaimah and a calendar packed full of activities over ten days of fanfare and celebration.

With its fast-paced format and inclusive nature, mini-football attracts a considerable base of participants and is widely recognized as one of the most popular sports in the world. We couldn’t be more excited to host this premier event which we believe will have a great legacy and positive impact on Ras Al Khaimah’s reputation as a destination for major sporting events.

Ras Al Khaimah’s diverse natural landscape seems ideal for sports enthusiasts. Could you elaborate on the various outdoor activities and sports opportunities available in the region?

With its stunning nature and diverse topography, Ras Al Khaimah is known as the adventure hub of the Middle East. At an imposing height of 1,934 metres, Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest peak is the crowning glory of Ras Al Khaimah, offering a unique and diverse range of experiences for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Over the last few years, we have strengthened the reputation of Jebel Jais as a standalone tourism offering by unveiling a series of exciting projects. Championing sustainability, the attractions give guests the chance to get up close and personal with the mountainous terrain and enjoy breathtaking nature, without impacting the local ecosystem.

Jais Adventure Park serves as the gateway to the iconic mountain’s multitude of attractions. Heading the charge of adventures on offer is the Jais Flight – the world’s longest zipline. Another must-try attraction is the Jais Sky Tour, which comprises six ziplines high above the grand cliffs and canyons of Jebel Jais, connected by nine platforms and a 15m-long sky bridge – the highest of its kind in the UAE.

Located adjacent to the Jais Adventure Centre is the region’s longest toboggan ride and family-friendly attraction – the thrilling Jais Sledder. Further down the mountain is The Bear Grylls Survival Camp (BGEC), the first of its kind in the region that challenges visitors to try out exhilarating courses run by UK experts trained at the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. Visitors who want to fully immerse themselves in the mountain experience can stay at Camp 1770 – the highest camp in the UAE.

Last year, the Emirate hosted its second edition of the ‘HIGHLANDER’ hiking experience in the GCC. The only certified international hiking association in the world, HIGHLANDER is renowned for its specially curated hiking experiences that take intrepid adventurers on a two- and three-day hike based on their experience and fitness levels.

In what ways does the 2023 Minifootball World Cup align with Ras Al Khaimah’s commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism?

Sustainability is a key driver for tourism in Ras Al Khaimah, underpinned by our vision to become the region’s leading sustainable destination by 2025. As such, the stadium construction and that any other infrastructure developed for the WMF Minifootball World Cup will be done to the highest standards of sustainability and the event will incorporate as many sustainable event management practices as possible.

How does the Minifootball World Cup contribute to fostering local sports culture and encouraging residents and visitors to engage in sports activities?

We believe the tournament will act as a springboard for the awareness of mini-football in the UAE, encouraging more people to participate in the sport and providing entertainment for both players and spectators, fostering a sense of community that is in line with our objectives to enhance livability in the Emirate.

Moreover, we see mini-football bringing a range of benefits to the community by engaging local schools and sports clubs, thanks to its inclusive nature which encourages participation, allowing people of all ages and skill levels to engage in the sport. Our marketing campaign for the championship “Home For Everyday Legends ” perfectly reflects the inclusive nature of mini-football and the proud sporting legacy of Ras Al Khaimah.

Beyond the professional level, how does the World Cup aim to promote Minifootball among amateur players and enthusiasts? What role does the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority play in engaging with local schools and sports clubs to promote sports and athleticism?

Minifootball holds significant importance as both a sport and a social platform. It provides a unique opportunity for players of all skill levels to showcase their talents and enjoy the competitive sport. The Minifootball World Cup, in particular, plays a crucial role in elevating the status of mini-football on a global scale.

It brings together teams from various nations, promoting cultural exchange, fostering friendship, and strengthening international cooperation. Moreover, the tournament offers an entertaining and engaging experience for both players and fans, transforming everyday legends into stars and creating memorable football moments.

We will be working with local schools and sports clubs to promote the benefits gained through playing football and other sports during and after the Minifootball World Cup. Hosting the Minifootball World Cup will also set a great example to the wider community to take up football and other sports. 

With so many exciting events happening in Ras Al Khaimah, what unique experiences can luxury travellers expect during their visit to the Minifootball World Cup?

Ras Al Khaimah truly has it all. We are popular amongst a diverse mix of visitors in terms of nationality, age and interests because we have so many different activities and places to explore, from wonderful nature to 7,000 years of fascinating history and thrilling adventure at Jebel Jais.

In terms of what luxury travellers can expect from Ras Al Khaimah, I would say one of the key things they can find here is a wide range of world-class accommodations from luxury beach resorts to upscale villas in the middle of the desert by some of the best brands in the business including Ritz Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, InterContinental and Mövenpick to name a few.

For those looking to experience Ras Al Khaimah’s unique terracotta desert, the Al Wadi Nature Reserve boasts the stunning Ritz-Carlton resort, offering private villas with breath-taking views, plus desert treks on camels and horseback riding at Al Wadi Equestrian Center, private archery lessons and a falcon show. While visitors seeking decadent dining under the stars can enjoy Sonara Camp, a luxurious dining and entertainment experience set in the beauty of the Al Wadi desert, with herds of Oryx and Gazelles as dinner companions.

The emirate is also dotted with over 100 historical and archaeological sites, more than any other emirate, including ruins and forts such as Julfar, Shimal, Al Jazeera Al Hamra and Dhayah that are recognised by UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites. Meanwhile, an immersive trip to Suwaidi Pearls, the only pearl farm in the UAE, provides visitors with a glimpse into the emirate’s pearling heritage.

Could you share your thoughts on the legacy that the 2023 Minifootball World Cup is expected to leave, both for Ras Al Khaimah and the sport itself?

As with all sporting events – legacy is key, and we are confident that the Minifootball World Cup will leave a legacy of enhanced community engagement, improved sports infrastructure, and increased sports participation in Ras Al            Khaimah and beyond.

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