(MENAFN - Arab News) Ras Al-Khaimah, the rapidly expanding emirate of the UAE, takes the global spotlight with the Thursday announcement of a 1 billion Real Madrid holiday resort to be built on a massive 430,000 square meter artificial island called Al-Marjan, further enhancing opportunities for domestic and foreign investors.
The coming together of Ras Al-Khaimah and Real Madrid, the world's best known football club, for the venture has created interest both in the business and the sporting worlds. The promoters of the project described it as a unique concept where sports will be combined with entertainment and called "sportainment."
The announcement was made in the presence of Ras Al-Khaimah ruler Sheikh Saud Saqr Al-Qasimi; his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed; Real Madrid Club President Florentino Perez Rodriguez; Ras Al-Khaimah Investment Authority CEO Khater Massaad; RAK Marjan Island Football CEO Louis-Armand de Rouge and soccer star Zinedine Zidane.
"Throughout its more than 100 years of history, Real Madrid has coined a series of values that make it a world reference - leadership, legend, myth, grandeur and universality. Now with the news of this exciting new resort development we are proud to position Ras Al-Khaimah alongside this iconic brand," said Massaad.
It is without doubt the best advertisement that Ras Al-Khaimah Investment Authority could hope for in its quest to develop and promote sport tourism in the emirate and the wider UAE and provide the gateway for this universal brand to the Middle East and Asia.
"We have always seen ourselves as a rising star among the UAE's emirates, and now we can look forward to welcoming stars of another kind - those who play in the global football arena - to the unique new stadium, which will become a focal point for the new resort, along with all the other five-star sporting facilities," said Massaad.
The announcement underscores the once-quaint emirate's repositioning to become a magnet for business investment. In addition to significant infrastructure improvements the emirate is making in its seaport and transportation grid, a business friendly environment from easy startup to features such as income and corporate tax exemptions, 100 percent capital repatriation, full ownership in free zones and unlimited expatriate manpower should make it extremely attractive to both foreign and domestic investors, and the authority lists dozens of supported opportunities in various sectors of interest.
At the launch, the Ras Al-Khaimah ruler and Real Madrid president outlined more of their vision for the island and the role it will play in tourism development in Ral Al-Khaimah.
Sheikh Saud said the 50-hectare resort, slated for completion in January 2015, will be the flagship of the Al-Marjan Development and aims to attract one million visitors a year.
Real Madrid chief Rodrguez said that RAK had been chosen for the pioneering project due to the emirate's location, equidistant between Europe and the Far East - home to half the club's estimated 300 million fans and followers.
"The Ras Al-Khaimah government shared the vision, drive and ambition to work with the club in creating a unique concept of 'sportainment,'" he said. "The world of sports and Real Madrid again prove to have no boundaries and that football is a fantastic tool with which to bring together diverse nationalities and cultures. This team's fans are passionate wherever they may be and never give up. Their dreams motivate us on a daily basis."
The first recreational tourism complex built under the Real Madrid trademark will be a comprehensive sports destination complete with luxury hotels, a marina and amusement park featuring the use of latest technologies such as holographic animation. It will also house a 10,000-seat stadium - the world's first to open directly to the sea - as well as sports facilities, a club museum, shopping mall, private beaches and residential areas.
"This is a decisive and strategic step that will enhance the strength of this institution in the Middle East and Asia, a key region in which the passion for this club is very apparent and growing. The project may be seen as unusual for a football club, but we feel this will set a trend across the industry as clubs try to find new ways to make money," said Rodrguez.
RAK Marjan Island Football chief de Rouge added: "The complex is designed not only for the millions of Real Madrid fans around the world but also for all families wishing to experience an unforgettable moment in a unique place."
The location is strategic, he said. "The UAE and Ras Al-Khaimah are the gateway to the Middle East and Asia. Dubai is the fourth largest airport in the world with over 47 million passengers in 2010, and it stands 45 minutes away from the Real Madrid Resort Island. Two billion people are within a four-hour radius," de Rouge said.
"It will also allow Real Madrid to accelerate its growth in Asian and Middle-Eastern markets," he said. "The alignment of our interests and the quality of our dialogue with Real Madrid and Ras Al-Khaimah has played a decisive role in the implementation of this unique concept. We are delighted to participate in this great project, and we will work with passion to welcome the fans and their families at the Real Madrid Resort Island. It will truly be a dream island," he said.
The development will also be a decisive step forward toward the emirate becoming a tourism destination in its own right.
By 2021, Ras Al-Khaimah expects around 20 percent of its GDP will be generated by tourism-related activities, which even by 2011 figures would mean the industry would be generating in excess of 1 billion per year - an excellent return on existing investments.