Federal tourism body needed, says SCTDA - Emirates24|7

Federal tourism body needed, says SCTDA

(SUPPLIED)   

 

Sharjah is focusing on attracting international tourists and investors through a variety of means ranging from the classification of hotels in line with worldwide standards to the construction of new resorts and the upgrading of infrastructure.


Mohamed Ali Al Noman, director-general of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), spoke to Emirates Business about the organisation’s strategies and plans.


He revealed the Eastern Zone had been earmarked for tourism development. And, on the federal level, he stressed the need for a countrywide authority to represent UAE tourism regionally and internationally.

 

What is the authority’s vision?

The authority was established in 1996 to promote the emirate’s commerce and tourism activities. It plans and lays down strategies, carries out marketing and promotional activities and conducts market studies and surveys.

SCTDA is working with other departments to help provide the required infrastructure developments. There was a debate about which should come first, the chicken or the egg expansion projects or bringing in tourists.

This was resolved by agreeing to adopt a parallel strategy, conducting promotional campaigns and constructing infrastructure and facilities simultaneously.

How do you assess the authority’s performance in the light of the UAE Government Strategy announced last year?

We are working with the tourist departments in the different emirates and each is representing the UAE first and the relevant emirate secondly at regional and international events.

However, there is an urgent need for a federal authority or a council. Arab or international organisations concerned with tourism and hospitality want to deal with an authority that represents the UAE. Such a federal body would better represent the UAE tourism market and industry and boost ties with overseas bodies.

I do not think the UAE Ministry of Culture would be the right authority to represent this sector. Tourism is an industry and is related to commerce and economy it is completely different from culture.

Do you find other organisations in Sharjah co-operative?

The different departments are working as one team to help boost the emirate’s economy. Regarding tourism, for example, following the success of our promotional campaign in Turkey, Air Arabia launched an Istanbul route in May 2006.

Are you planning to enter new markets this year?

Yes, our plan is to bolster our achievements in markets we have already targeted, such as Turkey and some of the Scandinavian countries.

Also, we are planning to explore new markets such as Norway, Denmark and Spain. We will participate in tourism exhibitions in these countries to help attract visitors.

We took part in the 12th round of the East Mediterranean International Travel and Tourism Exhibition held in Istanbul last month for the fifth consecutive year. Norway and Denmark operate tourist flights to East Asia via Sharjah. We will promote the emirate as an attractive stopover. Expansion of Expo Centre Sharjah is under way.

Does this mean you plan to promote the emirate as a meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition (Mice) tourist destination?

We intend to focus on promoting the emirate as a Mice destination in Spain in particular following the completion of the expansion project and the construction of a nearby five-star hotel.

Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry is working intensively to attract international exhibitions. We expect that Sharjah will reap the fruits of this policy within the next few years.

You said that the authority carried out market studies what were the findings?

We found that tourists usually seek mountain and seaside views and are also attracted to the unique desert experience. Based on that, the Government of Sharjah is focusing its efforts on developing its Eastern coastline into a tourist destination by carrying out hotel and resort projects there.

We are aware that the Eastern Zone could be a major tourism attraction and that it lacks infrastructure and facilities. This is the reason behind the construction of the Wadi Al Hilo tunnel that connects the Central Zone with the Eastern coastline.

The relevant departments are carrying out development work, including road projects and a facelift of the corniches at Kalba and Khor Fakkan. We will also have meetings with the municipal councils in these areas to discuss what further infrastructure is needed.

What are the main elements of tourism in Sharjah?

Sharjah is a modern city but it preserves its Arab and Islamic culture and heritage in every way, including through the architecture of government premises, mosques and even lampposts.

His Highness, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, mandates that Sharjah should remain a cultural and heritage centre and should preserve its uniqueness.

Sharjah has 19 museums, including Al Hosn Museum that dates back to 1820. The Heritage Museum includes rare manuscripts that are more than 200 years old. Many old houses have been transformed into museums to present the life of our ancestors.

Sharjah’s Arab and Islamic heritage and culture have made it a popular destination for European tourists and Arab families alike.


What other attractions does the emirate have?

The old markets such as Al Arsa at Al Shweiheen area and the Islamic Suq have been renovated to make them tourist destinations. Other attractions include the modern shopping malls, promenades and parks.

And the expansion of Sharjah International Airport and the launch of the carrier Air Arabia have supported the tourism sector.

How many hotels and hotel apartment blocks are there in Sharjah and what is the rate of increase?


In 2007 we had a total of 96 hotels and hotel apartment blocks 33 hotels and 63 apartment buildings up from a total of 74 (24 hotels and 50 apartment buildings) in 2006, a 30 per cent increase.

These facilities offer 7,000 rooms. The rate of increase since 2004 was more than 90 per cent then we had just 55 hotels and apartments (21 hotels and 34 apartment blocks).

Was there any increase in the rate of occupancy of hotels and hotel apartments last year compared with 2006?

Hotels and hotel apartments reported an 80 per cent average rate of occupancy through the yeara five per cent increase on figures for 2006.

How many new hotels are planned and how many rooms do you want to see?

Since last summer we have received applications for the licensing of 35 hotels a very large number. Many of these hotels will be built in new development areas. We are looking to have between 10,000 and 12,000 rooms within three years.

Why does Sharjah need so much extra accommodation?

There is an increasing demand for hotels in particular last year the rate of occupancy in hotels averaged 85 per cent, an increase of three per cent over 2006. And in the busy season from December to April hotels report 100 per cent occupancy. We are planning ahead in light of the increase in occupancy.

What was the rate of occupancy in hotel apartments? Was there any increase compared with 2006, and if so why?

The rate of occupancy in 2006 was 73 per cent compared with 67 per cent in 2006. This is because family tourists prefer to stay in hotel apartments.

What was the number of guests in Sharjah last year?

The total increased from 981,501 in 2004 to about 1.5 million in 2007. In 2006 there were 1.3 million guests.

Has the number of passengers using Sharjah International Airport increased?

The number of passengers has risen by 47 per cent from 3.06 million in 2006 to 4.5 million in 2007. Last year you started focusing on the European markets through your participation in international exhibitions there.

Have you benefited from that?

The number of European tourists tops the list at 33 per cent of the total. Visitors from the GCC countries followed at 30 per cent, Asian countries accounted for 20 per cent, Arab countries 13 per cent and four per cent came from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the Pacific region.


What contribution does tourism make to the emirate’s gross domestic product?

The tourism sector accounted for 10 per cent share of GDP in 2006. This is considered a relatively high percentage taking into account that Sharjah’s industrial sector contributes more than 40 per cent.

The authority adopted a new classification system for hotels and hotel apartments last month.

What was the reason for this and what benefits do you expect from it?

We found there was an urgent need to classify our hotels and apartments in line with international standards to ensure transparency and help overseas travel agencies understand the level of the hotel or apartment they are dealing with.

The move will ensure credibility and reliability in Sharjah’s tourism market. And hotel and apartment operators will carry out necessary improvements to meet the standards of the level they wish to belong to.


Classifying hotels provides the necessary confidence for investors wishing to set up hotel projects in the emirate. We will end up having a higher level of tourism facilities and offering a quality tourism market.


What are the main challenges you face?

The UAE in general is growing and becoming a business and tourism destination. This has resulted in increased demand for infrastructure and facilities.

As part of a growing country, Sharjah is facing the challenge of providing necessary infrastructure developments.


Construction takes time and we are working intensively to speed up our projects and meet the demand.

 

 

Mohamed Ali Al Noman

Director-General, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority

 

Mohamed Ali Al Noman has had a distinguished career and has contributed to the growth of Sharjah. After graduating with a higher diploma from the Higher College of Technology in Dubai he worked in the Hamriyah Free Zone for a year.


He then worked for Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) for four years before joining SCTDA four years ago.


He helped to enhance Sharjah’s economy by developing projects and initiatives that helped the emirate to grow and prosper.


His efforts to promote Sharjah as a tourism and commercial destination and his innovative ideas led to him being appointed Director-General of the authority.


 

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