Causing more frustration for Yemen’s tourism industryNew warning to US citizens [Archives:2004/738/Front Page]

May 17 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

The United States issued a new warning last week for US citizens who consider traveling to Yemen.
The travel warning from the US State Department focused on possible terrorist threats from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network which is believed to be trying to establish a new base in a country outside of Afghanistan.
“The security threat to all US citizens in Yemen remains high, due to continuing efforts by Al-Qaeda to re-constitute an effective operating base,” said the State Department. “This could lead to possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against US citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests.”
The warning also said that US citizens planning to travel to Yemen should “consider carefully the risks of travel to Yemen.”
The new travel warning renewed a similar statement issued by the US government on August 20, 2003, which recommended to US citizens to put off unnecessary travel to Yemen. A year ago the State Department ordered non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Sana'a and family members to leave Yemen, stating it had reliable reports that there were plans of terrorist attacks against US interests.
Last month, the Yemeni government declared that it had made successful progress on fighting terrorism. Abdul Karim Al-Ariani, former Yemeni Prime Minister and advisor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, said that around 90% of Al-Qaeda cells in Yemen had been dismantled. Hundreds of militants have been rounded up and key Al-Qaeda members have been captured since Yemen joined the United States to fight terrorism. The last major attack on foreign interests in Yemen was the bombing of the French oil tanker Limburg in 2002.
“The Yemeni government has done an excellent job of fighting terrorism,” said a foreign diplomat based in Yemen. “But if Al-Qaeda is still planning attacks, there are challenges ahead for Yemeni security.”
Some in the Yemeni tourism industry are angry over the new US travel warning. Although oil is the dominant player in Yemen's market – taking up around 70% of export and government revenue – many believe that the growth of other sectors, like fishing and tourism, can give a big boost to Yemen's struggling economy.
“US travel warnings affect our tourism industry,” Executive Director of Tourism Promotion Board Taha Al-Mahbashi told Yemen Times. “These warnings also affect our overall economy and it doesn't seem fair.”
Al-Mahbashi said that the number of tourists coming to Yemen increased in 2003, especially visitors from the Middle East and Europe, but sporadic terrorist attacks in the Arab world and elsewhere have scared many tourists away from traveling to the Middle East.
“Terrorism around the world has had a major effect on the tourism industry,” said Al-Mahbashi. “And many people see travel warnings which create even more effect on tourism.”
It is stated in the latest US warning that the US Embassy in Yemen might close or suspend public services temporarily for security reasons. According to a US official stationed in Sana'a, the warning did not change the Embassy's position on security.
“Nothing changed at the US Embassy when the warning came out,” said the US official. “We will continue tight security at the same level. We have been very vigilant and will continue to be vigilant.”