House of Coco is thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with Alka Winter, the dynamic VP of Marketing and Communications at Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). A trailblazer in the tourism and hospitality sector, Alka has crafted a remarkable career defined by influential moments and strategic innovations.

In this engaging conversation, Alka shares her insights into what makes Ras Al Khaimah a standout destination for women and solo female travelers. She discusses the growing trend of solo travel among women and its positive impact on the tourism industry. Additionally, Alka sheds light on how the UAE is setting new benchmarks for gender equality, with RAKTDA recognised as one of the Best Workplaces for Women in the Middle East.

Join us as we delve into Alka Winter’s inspiring journey, her vision for the future of tourism and the empowering strides being made for women in the UAE. This is a must-read for fearless females around the world looking to explore new horizons and be inspired by leaders in their field…

1. Can you share with us a pivotal moment in your career that significantly shaped your trajectory within the tourism and hospitality sector?

I wouldn’t say that it was a pivotal moment per se, it was more the people in my life who helped shaped my career and gave me advice when I needed it – from when it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone after 15 years in hospitality and giving me the encouragement to explore the tourism eco-system, to where I am today. Those people include Raki Phillips, my CEO at Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, whom I’ve known for over a decade, and worked with during my earlier Fairmont and FRHI days – to Philip Barnes, the CEO of Rotana Hotels.

Another great mentor, both professionally and personally is Charlotte Thouvard and Mike Taylor at Accor. I’m blessed to have such amazing advocates with whom I continue to draw on for their advice and expertise as leaders, and industry professionals.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career in marketing and communications specifically within the travel industry?

It really started in the early 2000s. I had obtained a post graduate degree in Public Relations in Ontario, Canada, and was looking to start my career in PR. Art history and museums was a big passion, as it is today, and as such, I interned at the Royal Ontario Museum.  When my internship came to a close, my director Francisco Alvarez put me forward for an entry level PR role at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto – an iconic luxury hotel dating back to 1929 with an incredible history.  From then on, I was hooked, and hospitality became a major part of my life!

Fast forward to a few years later, and I’ve met my husband at the Fairmont Dubai where I used to work. We later married at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, and the brand became an essential part of our lives. There was so much personal happiness and affinity wrapped up in it, which really demonstrates the power of brands. 

I made the jump into tourism four years ago. I was fascinated with Ras Al Khaimah, the northern-most emirate in the UAE as a challenger brand, and having the opportunity to work with a wonderful mentor and colleague, Raki Phillips,the tourism board’s CEO – as well as a wonderful marketing and communications team of 10, who come from nine different nationalities ranging from Emirati to Turkish, Estonian, Syrian, Philippines, Canada (myself), Egyptian, and Pakistan – to name a few.

3. As someone with an impressive track record in the hospitality industry, what strategies do you believe are crucial for elevating a destination’s profile to international audiences?

A multi-faceted approach is essential. One that incorporates everything from planning and growth, such as ourhospitality and attraction developments, to having a robust sustainable strategy and implementing initiatives that benefit local communities. Currently tourism accounts for 5% of the emirate’s GDP – our aim is to grow this to a third, and to become a major economic contributor to the destination.

Separately, sharing compelling storytelling through our communications channels is key, although that is putting itsimply. We try to have an intuitive understanding of where our audiences are and which phase of the dreaming, consideration, and planning phases they are in – and realising that this isn’t a simple linear process. 

Our role is not only as communicators, but as super sleuths – understanding the pulse of travel inspiration and meeting our travellers at the pass, with creative and straightforward content that resonates with them at a visceral level. Brand identity is critical here, and in turn, it encourages tourism and drives economic growth.

4. Ras Al Khaimah is increasingly recognised as a top destination for women and solo travellers. What unique attributes do you think contribute to its appeal for this demographic?

Safety is key attribute for all travellers, especially solo travellers and women. Ras Al Khaimah is the number one country where people feel safe walking alone, according to Gallup, and it’s the first safe city in the world to receive a ‘Safeguard Assurance’ label from Bureau Veritas. It is also the first Emirate to receive the world travel and tourism council (WTTC) safe travels stamp, which recognises the destinations heightened safety standards and training protocol in place across the Emirate. This has positively impacted the appeal among women and the wider solo travellersegment, in addition to Ras Al Khaimah’s unique attractions and warm hospitality.

5. Solo female travel is on the rise globally. How do you think destinations like Ras Al Khaimah can cater to the specific needs and interests of solo female travellers?

Destinations like Ras Al Khaimah exemplify a remarkable blend of tradition and modernity, offering a warm welcometo solo female travellers. Renowned for its progressive outlook and commitment to tolerance, the UAE and Ras Al Khaimah prioritise the safety and comfort of all visitors, regardless of gender. For instance, the UAE has institutionalised the concept of tolerance, establishing a dedicated Ministry of Tolerance in 2016 and a Supreme National Committee for Tolerance in 2018. These initiatives aim to promote respect and appreciation for diverse cultures, forms of expression, and ways of life, both domestically and internationally.

With these measures in place – that aim to create a welcoming and supportive environment, Ras Al Khaimah encourages solo female travellers to explore and enjoy the Emirate, without concerns about safety. We have an abundance of accommodation options from the resorts, to glamping sites, and the vibrant array of cultural experiencesand attractions, giving solo female travellers an opportunity to explore the rich tapestry of Emirati heritage with confidence and ease. 

6. In your experience, how has the surge in solo travel among women positively impacted the overall tourism industry?

The rise of solo female travel has positively impacted the tourism industry and has prompted destinations to prioritise safety – a key factor women, and I myself, would consider when choosing a destination.

It has also naturally expanded the tourism market, creating new opportunities for businesses to cater to solo femaletravellers’ safety needs. It’s driven improvements in accommodation, tours, and activities – as well as the destinations wider infrastructure, including transportation and safety measures which we’ve seen enhanced globally, to help improve the travel experience. I do think the solo travel trend really empowers women to focus on personal growth and independence, while exploring the world.

7. Gender equality is a significant focus for RAKTDA. Can you elaborate on some initiatives or practices the organisation implements to foster gender equality in the workplace?

As a strong advocate for gender equality, I am proud to live and work in the UAE, a leading country in the region. At RAKTDA, we strive to increase women’s representation in leadership roles within the tourism industry by implementing inclusive policies, providing mentorships, and collaborating with stakeholders. Engaging with local communities through awareness campaigns is key to addressing cultural norms and stereotypes and advocating for women’s rights. Through proactive measures, Ras Al Khaimah can contribute to a more inclusive workplace andtourism industry, benefiting women and society.

8. As a leader in the tourism industry, how do you see Ras Al Khaimah contributing to the broader narrative of gender equality and womens empowerment in the Middle East?

It is a privilege to work towards creating more opportunities for women in the corporate and tourism sectors in the Middle East. I am confident Ras Al Khaimah will maintain its commitment to fostering an exceptional workplace environment for women, reshaping the narrative of gender equality and empowerment in the region. By prioritisinginclusive initiatives and promoting equality in education, Ras Al Khaimah can set a positive example. As a leader myself, I believe in showcasing women’s achievements in the industry, and advocating for greater gender diversity and representation – inspiring positive change and inclusivity.

9. What advice would you give to women aspiring to leadership roles within the tourism and hospitality sector?

Keep on learning. Just when you think you’ve learnt everything you need to know, go beyond this. As a 49-year-oldwith a career spanning over 20 years, what has kept me invested in what I do and valued as a colleague, is the willingness to keep learning and trying new things. Secondly, believe that you belong. Imposter syndrome affects almost all women, but when it does, the best way that I found out of it, is to master the task or role at hand, and start operating from a position of strength. Lastly, don’t lose your authenticity and what makes you, you. Often, we feel that we need to emulate those in higher positions. I’ve found that appropriating their techniques, which makes them successful, is crucial, however, only you can bring your unique talent, energy and dynamism to a role or task at hand. Don’t feel the need to change or worse, apologise for that. 

10. Can you share some of the challenges you’ve faced as a female leader in a predominantly male-dominated industry, and how you’ve overcome them?

The challenges I have faced are those anyone would face, regardless of gender. Thankfully I’ve had mentors and leaders- male and female, who have served as my advocates and sponsors, and helped me navigate through these challenges.  This is the same philosophy I would also apply to my personal life.  

11. Ras Al Khaimah offers diverse experiences from beach to desert adventures. Which experience do you personally find the most captivating, and why?

My team was responsible for the positioning of the destination a few years back as the nature emirate and as a destination that complemented its neighboring emirates. With a unique topography of desert, mountain, and sea, and consequently three distinct tribes of Emirate people based on these natural attributes – it’s difficult to say what’s more captivating. If I had to select an experience, it would be the Hajar mountain and particularly Jebel Jais – the highest mountain peak in the UAE. Hiking across its over 50 km of developed trail is a pure highlight, with nature and serenity just in front of you, alongside activities for the entire family. This includes the alpine inspired Jais Sledder that will takeyou through various mountain terrains, and to the Bear Grylls Explorers Camp, offering courses of varying lengths and putting your survival skills to the test. 

12. The UAE is renowned for its safety standards. How does Ras Al Khaimah ensure a safe and secure environment for travellers, particularly solo female travellers?

Ras Al Khaimah engages several measures for safety, from safe accommodation options available for all of visitors, and especially for solo female travellers, with features such as secure entrances, well-lit parking areas, and 24-hour reception services. The Emirate has reliable transportation including taxis, buses, and ride-sharing services that allows solo female travellers to navigate the destination safely and efficiently. The local community are always so friendly towards travellers and will happily provide guidance, giving them a sense of security while exploring the destination.

13. What role do you believe sustainable tourism plays in shaping Ras Al Khaimah’s appeal as a holiday destination, especially for environmentally conscious travellers?

It plays a fundamental role, and sustainability is at the heart of our strategies. Our ambition is to nurture an industry that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable – and we are making significant headway in achieving this. We are on track to becoming a sustainable destination and a regional leader in sustainable tourism by next year.

As the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, we developed a strong Sustainability Implementation Plan with EarthCheck – the world’s leading scientific benchmarking, certification, and advisory group for tourism destinations. We were awarded a Silver Certification for outperforming the region’s average baseline levels across key sustainability indicators, from energy consumption (by 23%), greenhouse gas emissions (by 29%) and waste output (by 61%). With consumers and travellers becoming more savvy, educated, and eco-conscious on the impact their decisionshave on the planet, we are sure it does add to the destinations appeal.

It also not just about recycling and using sustainable materials to build with, or to serve our food and beverages in. There is a huge amount of thought and energy that goes into building and nurturing a sustainable destination responsibly and the positive recognition we get for this filters into the destinations appeal with visitors. 

14. As someone deeply involved in marketing and communications, how do you approach the task of promoting cultural authenticity while catering to international audiences’ preferences?

We work closely with the local community to authentically showcase Ras Al Khaimah’s cultural experiences and traditions. By incorporating local stories and historical narratives, such as the inspiring tale of Suwaidi Pearls’ founderand the grandson of the last pearl diver in Ras Al Khaimah, Abdulla Rashed Al Suwaidi, we connect visitors with the region’s rich heritage. We also consider the preferences of international visitors, carefully selecting commercial offerings such as hotels, restaurants, and shops to reflect local culture while offering a diverse range of international cuisine , providing an inclusive and memorable experience for all.

15. RAKTDA has achieved remarkable recognition as a great workplace. What do you think sets it apart in terms of fostering a positive work environment?

As part of our wider strategy, we are embracing the concept of liveability. This includes engaging with the local community, who form part of the destination’s workforce, staging over 50 events a year such as the RAK Art Festival, the RAK Half Marathon, Ras Al Khaimah Championship, and various other sporting events. We also introduced RAKFAM – a series of initiatives aimed at enriching connectivity, community life and facilities for the tourism sector employees in the Emirate. 

We have a RAKFAM app which allows all of our hospitality employees in Ras Al Khaimah to connect. They can find discounts and rewards, give feedback to their organisations – and the app encourages all employees to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to its focus on employee well-being, we were named one of the 2022 Top 10 Great Places to Work in the Middle East – the highest placed government entity, as well as one of the Best Workplaces for Women, and a Great Place to Work in 2021 – the first and only organisation in Ras Al Khaimah to be awarded this certification.

16. With your extensive experience working with major hotel chains, what trends do you foresee shaping the future of hospitality and tourism marketing?

Overtourism is a trend that we are seeing gaining momentum, and this is putting pressure on destinations and hospitality to ensure they have the infrastructure in place to meet demand – and consciously.

RAKTDA works closely with our hospitality partners to ensure controlled growth, so we avoid over-tourism and haphazard expansion. As the licensing authority, we enforce sustainability guidelines through our ‘Green Hotel Rating’ – an initiative that aims to achieve 100 percent integrated sustainability in all of Ras Al Khaimah’s hotels, and we areactively engaged in both natural and cultural conservation efforts to preserve the destinations innate assets, whilst consciously expanding.

Being more eco-conscious remains a priority for travellers, with 76% of people saying they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months. Destinations need to act now not only to meet travellers’ growing demand, but to address ongoing environmental concerns particularly as Europe is heading towards another unusually warm and dry summer. In Ras Al Khaimah, we have built a robust sustainable strategy in collaboration with EarthCheck that will allow us to reach our objective of becoming a regional leader in sustainable tourism by 2025 and develop the destination to the highest sustainability standards. 

We have also seen more interest in off-peak travel for people who are keen to enjoy their favourite destinations for less, while avoiding the crowds. “Shoulder Shoppers” is also on the rise with UK travellers preferring spring trips over Summer, and nearly half wanting to travel between March and May. 

The tourism industry is also continuing to be shaped by the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularlygenerative AI. Online travel agencies have now started to integrate generative AI into mobile applications to make the discovery and booking processes easier, providing customers with personalised recommendations and meeting the needs of the majority (80%) of travellers who want to be able to book their trip entirely online.

Lastly, bleisure travel is still trending. The market projected to reach an impressive $2.97 trillion by 2032, driven by factors such as remote work policies, employee well-being initiatives, and the desire for unique experiences. This is a positive trend, impacting the hospitality industry by increasing hotel occupancy rates, revenue from additional services like spas and customer loyalty towards travel brands.

17. How does RAKTDA leverage digital platforms and technology to enhance the visitor experience and promote Ras Al Khaimah as a top travel destination?

RAKTDA leverages social media, particularly platforms like Meta and TikTok, to produce quick, easily digestible content in both static and short-form video formats to effectively promote the destination. In 2023, we focused on short-from content, uploading over 1500 individual organic content pieces to Meta and TikTok, gaining over 15 million views across Instagram and TikTok. Additionally, RAKTDA launched the ‘All About You’ promotional campaign, utilising a feline cat mascot to symbolise the relaxing and adventurous experiences available in Ras Al Khaimah, attracting new visitors by driving affinity.

18. What are some upcoming projects or initiatives from RAKTDA that travellers can look forward to?

This summer, Sofitel Al Hamra Beach Resort, a unique 5-star destination  perched along the Ras Al Khaimah coastlinewill open its doors, combining French luxury and local cuisine. The Rove Al Marjan Island will also be opening with 441 rooms by the end of the year, alongside Westin Hotel & Hotel Apartments offering 232 rooms and 25 apartments. The Saij, A Mantis Collection Mountain Lodge is another exciting addition, opening on Jebel Jais, promising mindful activities and guided treks, and offering guests a retreat to discover themselves amidst breathtaking natural surroundings.

We have also launched a new summer campaign – See Double. It’s an innovative campaign from RAKTDA and Oman Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, in collaboration with OMRAN Group, which invites travellers to discover both Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, and Musandam, Oman, in a single trip filled with twice the experience.  

19. Our readers love to travel, what destination is at the top of your bucket list?

I love exploring new countries.  As I write this, I’m embarking on my first trip to Sweden, followed by Norway where I will be meeting with Nordic press.  However, as a treat, my husband surprised me with a trip to the northern most city in Sweden – Kiruna – straight into the Artic Circle in hopes that I will get a chance to see an Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights.  While that may be unlikely in late April, the fact that this is as far north as a I have ever gone is simply awe-inspiring in itself, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the experience.

20. Lastly, what legacy do you hope to leave through your work at RAKTDA, both in terms of tourism development and gender equality advocacy?

I believe that with everything you do, you want to leave the situation, the role, the people in your life and work, in a better place than how you started.  The same holds true for Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.  I sincerely hope to guide my department to take on larger projects, bigger challenges and reap amazing success in positioning Ras Al Khaimah as a Destination of Future, bringing onside the community in every step of the way.  

While I believe in gender equality, I also believe in gender parity and diversity, more.  The best success I’ve had professionally has been from multinational, multi-cultural male and female colleagues. I’m proud to say that I have one of the most diverse teams in RAKTDA with more than 10 nationalities – and the perspectives they bring to the table alongside exceptional industry expertise makes for a truly enriching work environment.


Northern girl Laura is the epitome of a true entrepreneur. Laura’s spirit for adventure and passion for people blaze through House of Coco. She founded House of Coco in 2014 and has grown it in to an internationally recognised brand whilst having a lot of fun along the way. Travel is in her DNA and she is a true visionary and a global citizen.

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