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Comment: Changes are needed to make tourism sustainable

The pandemic has brought the need to accelerate environmental tourism into focus, says Raki Phillips, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority

In 2019, 55% of global travellers said they were making more sustainable travel choices than they were a year before, according to a Booking.com survey. An increased 72% said they needed to “act now” to make “sustainable travel choices”. Since then, the global travel industry has faced two years of dramatic change; yet the need for sustainable choices has only become more acute.

This is why in Ras Al Khaimah we have, throughout the pandemic, taken the time to develop and launch our new sustainable tourism strategy which puts climate at the heart of growth, aiming to see our nature-based Emirate become the regional leader in environmentally conscious tourism by 2025.

Ras Al Khaimah is a fast-growing tourist destination in the UAE, known for its mountains, beaches and an ancient history. A global destination, with over 60 nationalities calling the emirate home, we are aiming to welcome three million tourists a year by 2030.

To do this sustainably, we know we need to make changes and that our growth model must position tackling emissions, eliminating waste and protecting biodiversity front and centre.

Integral to this is our new sustainable tourism strategy, encompassing several policies and practices aimed at reducing emissions, improving and aligning waste disposal systems and encouraging more sustainable use of natural resources.

We knew, however, that we couldn’t do this alone and collaborated with globally-renowned sustainable tourism experts EarthCheck to address the numerous environmental challenges facing our industry.

EarthCheck and Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) have launched several new initiatives across the sector and the collaboration has already made significant progress in several areas, most recently in boosting the sustainability credentials of the emirate’s hotels.

The Green Hotels Rating initiative 2021, aimed at achieving 100% integrated sustainability across all Ras Al Khaimah’s hotels, will assess how sustainable Ras Al Khaimah’s hotels are across several integrated areas including food waste, recycling and energy and water consumption. Ras Al Khaimah is also setting up several new sustainable accommodation facilities, such as Saij, A Mantis Collection Mountain Lodge opening in 2023, comprising 70 luxury lodges providing a pure mountain retreat that focuses on nature as well as mind, body and soul with guided treks, mindful pursuits and creative experiences.

We knew we needed to go beyond the hotel sector with our changes. The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) advice underlines that the industry must make optimal use of environmental resources, maintain essential ecological processes, and help conserve biodiversity.

Taking a holistic view of the emirate, we knew we needed to care for our physical environment and protect it as we grew. We’ve therefore implemented regular clean-ups of its natural tourist sites including the UAE’s highest peak, Jebel Jais mountain, as well as Rams, the emirate’s historic fishing village, and mountain hiking destination Wadi Showka.

RAK Municipality created a Green Public Procurement (GPP) programme, which prioritises the procurement of products and services for tourism that have a low environmental impact.

Ras Al Khaimah International Airport is also making changes and seeking to become a leader in this area by achieving World Green Airports Recognition from the Airports Council International (ACI). It has ambitions to become carbon-free by 2030. To achieve this, the airport has already replaced its runway lights with LED lights to save power and has plans to become a ‘smart airport’ by leveraging technological innovations to save energy and share information with other airports across the world. Like our broader strategy, the airport is also tackling waste, essential to a quick reduction in the impact we’re making now. We’re hoping to use our sunny skies to move to solar power in the future.

Looking forward, while there are still major challenges that lie ahead for the global tourism industry, tourism bodies across the world have made significant progress in overcoming them and are set to only augment these efforts further.

This week we hosted the Global Citizen Forum, a carbon mindful event inviting world leaders to discuss and pioneer initiatives that promote sustainable tourism.

As the world moves forward towards a new and green chapter for our planet, Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost emirate in the UAE, is determined to deliver authentic and high-quality sustainable tourism experiences and change the way tourists, the industry, and other global stakeholders work together, to establish sustainable travel options for everyone.

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