My husband grew up in Sharjah so I’ve always had a soft spot for that particular emirate.
As a first-time visitor several years ago, I was soothed by its tranquillity compared to its noisier neighbour of Dubai.
The calm waters of the Corniche coupled with impressive sites such as the Al Souq Al Markazi (more commonly known as the ‘Blue Souk’) will entice any visitor and while the third largest emirates of the UAE is nowhere near as tourist-filled as Dubai, Sharjah has been incredibly active during 2012, as Mohamed Ali Al Noman, chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) explains: 'This has been a remarkable year as far as promoting and marketing Sharjah is concerned.'
'As in the past few years, we have successfully taken brand Sharjah to major travel and tourism events around the world. The year opened on a high note with the emirate once again winning laurels at the ITB Berlin. The same has been true of all subsequent exhibitions including the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (GIBTM) in Abu Dhabi, Moscow International Exhibition Travel and Tourism (MITT) and Beijing International Tourism Expo (Bite).
Similarly, our efforts to promote Sharjah at home have been equally successful with our various cultural and tourism festivals. As a result, the emirate has attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world and from across the neighbourhood,' he adds.
With a calendar of events that includes approximately 14 main events a year, for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013, the best is yet to come, enthuses the chairman: 'The next few months are going to be crucial and special for the tourism industry in the emirate. Two of the major tourism and cultural festivals, Sharjah Water Festival including Sharjah Grand Prix and Sharjah Light Festival, in the region are coming up. These two major events are truly special for us, just as they are for the rest of the UAE and the region. The two festivals, to be held in December and February respectively, attract hundreds of thousands of families from across the region and beyond. So we are right now focused on these events as they are a great opportunity to promote and market Sharjah.'
In fact, it is the Sharjah Light Festival, which debuted two years ago, that Al Noman considers to have brought public appreciation and recognition on a global scale. This is perhaps reflected in the fact that Sharjah has registered robust growth of 11 per cent over the past five years and tourism today forms more than 10 per cent of the emirates’ GDP, making it the most important and influential sector.
However, Al Noman recognises the challenges, especially the growth in competition which has led to the modern traveller demanding even more from their tourist destination, commenting: 'The travel and tourism industry is becoming more competitive and demanding by the day and as a result international travellers are wooed more aggressively. Today’s traveller demands nothing but the best. This is a challenge no tourism market can afford to ignore.'
He continues: 'We could and should do more to market it more aggressively by both private and public sectors by reaching out to more potential international markets. All stake holders of the tourism sector need to join hands to promote the Emirate because tourism is directly linked to the economy and if tourism grows everyone stands to benefit.'
In addition to having a multi-language website and the promoting the destination through social media, the SCTDA has been engaging in a variety of joint venture initiatives, both within the country and across the Middle East to promote the destination. These include tie ups with airlines such as Air Arabia, as well as working with Shurooq, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, to develop several new ecotourism projects in the emirate.
Such projects will no doubt entice future visitors and Al Noman is confident that they will reach their visitor targets for 2012. In 2011, Sharjah welcomed 1,562,869 tourists and 1,556,885 in 2010. With more than 9000 rooms available in the emirate today, there are three key tourism projects coming up in Khor Fakkan, Kalba and Al Hisnisland in Sharjah’s east coast region which will add to the inventory.
Al Noman explains more: 'While Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) announced the massive Khor Fakkan Luxury Resort and Spa project last year, the Authority also announced two new gigantic projects this year – the ecotourism project in Kalba and the billion dirham tourism development project in Al Hisn, which was announced last month. Many more are indeed in the planning stage.'
The ecotourism project that the chairman is referring to is being developed in three stages and is part of Shurooq’s commitment to social responsibility. The phases will include the redevelopment of the natural reserves, the release of rare animals and birds and the establishment of a centre within the reserve for visitors. The project also includes development of Kalba Creek, the construction of a commercial complex featuring several shops and restaurants, and the development of tourism including hotels and chalets overlooking the Gulf of Oman.
By Karen Osman
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.