Jose Marie Bel to Yemen Times “The tourism industry in Yemen has been greatly affected by kidnapping incidents” [Archives:2001/44/Interview]

October 22 2001

Tourism is important for the development of any country. It brings foreign currencies into the country. In fact, in some countries, it is the only way of earning hard currency. For example, as far as our country is concerned about sixty thousand tourists visited Yemen in 1995. That number increased to 75,000 in 1996. This means Yemen earned millions of dollars from tourism. One may say that is good. But it is not good enough. Yemen could easily earn hundreds of millions of dollars because we have so much to offer. There are many countries which offer much less, but they get more tourists. This is because most people in many different countries in the world do not know about Yemen and they do not know about the attractions of this country. For this reason, the most important duty of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is to advertise about Yemen. It has to promote the tourism industry in Yemen. In addition, it has to build more four-and five star hotels. Our airports and roads have to be developed and improved so that tourists can get up into the mountains to see the archaeological sites and the most beautiful parts of our rural areas. Of course, all these things would cost a lot of money, but tourism means more jobs for us. It means that we have to protect our environment clearly; we have to know that if our environment is damaged or destroyed, this means that tourism will collapse. For this, we should use television, radio and newspapers to let our people know about the benefits of tourism. Unfortunately, very few people seriously think about the benefits that we get by tourists coming into different regions and seeing different habits or cultures. The answer to this problem is that our religion and culture are strong. Tourists are not going to damage them. On tourists and tourism, Abduh Moqbil Al-Sabri of Yemen Times met up with one of the French tourists, the Director of La Maison du Yemen, Jose Marie Bel and filed the following interview:
Q: Could you possibly give us a brief account of yourself?
A: My name is Jose Marie Bel. My first visit was 27 years ago. It is a long time ago of course. I have published six books about the Yemen. These books are written in French. They revolve about the architectural houses in Yemen. One book concentrates on the decoration, a book narrating the history of Aden, and the other two books deals with botany, in addition to some useful catalogues. I made ten exhibitions about Yemen in France, Europe and America. I also made 50 exhibitions in France and 200 lectures focusing on the media and tourism agencies in Europe. Actually, I have come here to Yemen to manage a tourist French group and after one month we will prepare a tour to Yemen with Al-Ashtal Company. I am glad to be here and to talk about Yemen’s culture to the French people.
Q: Is this the your visit to Yemen?
A: For me it is not the first visit. My first visit was 27 years ago. I met the President of Yemen at that time, Ibraheem Al-Hamdi and Al-Ghashmi. I am a plastic artist. I am the Director of La Maison du Yemen (Bait Al-Yemen). It is an institution focusing on Yemen and Arab Countries with the aim of enhancing the friendly relationship between France and Yemen.
Q: In your point of view, how can tourism prosper and flourish?
A: Actually, after the September 11 incidents in NYC and Washington, people are afraid to come to Yemen by planes. But the situation in Yemen is completely quiet and secure. Following these incidents, hotels are completely empty. For about three or four years the tourist situation was somewhat good. Many hotel services are about to decline. Tourist agencies will close their doors and many people will lose their jobs due to these vicissitudes. The government has to take serious action to restore the tourist sector.
Q: Recently, the Yemeni government has adopted security measures with regard to tourist safety; does this constitute a source of worry for the tourists?
A: No, I do not think so. The problem is that at the beginning the European tourists must realize the tourism industry in Yemen is good. Bodyguards accompany them in order to be informed of the whole tourist sites. But the French government does not give any real information about this country. They always say there that Yemen is insecure, roads are not good, but the reverse is true. Tourists are accompanied by bodyguards to protect them from kidnapping incidents; this is a temporary measure and can be solved immediately by the government.
Q: Do you think that kidnapping incidents affect the tourism industry?
A: Oh yes, absolutely. The tourism industry in Yemen has been greatly affected by kidnapping incidents and the tourism sector has been declining and getting worse and worse. If the media in Europe talk for one minute only about kidnapping incidents in Yemen, the result is zero, that is to say, they are afraid to come and fly to Yemen. On my part, I feel totally secure. I advise them to come to Yemen and see with their own eyes how the situation is! Here in Yemen, I am sure that any tourist who has the desire to come to this lovely country will not be disappointed. With its lovely sunshine, attractive scenes, towering mountains, desert and climate, Yemen is an exceptional country.
Q: What are the main attractions of Yemen?
A: The main attraction of Yemen is the country itself. I have visited many historical places and cities, such as, mountains, deserts, Hadhramout, the architectural buildings, villages, Al-Mukala, Aden and many places of Yemen.
Q: How do you assess the future of tourism in Yemen?
A: In Yemen, despite all the different incidents, the biggest damage resulted from the murder of some tourists in December 1998 in Abyan. These incidents and other incidents contributed to the slow development of the tourism industry in Yemen. But these incidents do not affect the French people a lot, for they are global crises. I spoke with the former Tourism Minister, Abdulamalik Mansour, about it not being necessary to make communication for agencies and European countries to display that Yemen is a safe country. As I mentioned earlier, Yemen is country famous for its great civilization.
Q: How many French tourists arrive here in Yemen?
A: Last year a few French tourists came, but specifically, before the USS Cole incidents and Abyan fiasco, around 120,000 French tourists. Last year around 700 came to Yemen, but now unfortunately, they are few.
Q: What do antiquities mean to you?
A: Of course, they are enchanting and very fascinating. It reminds me of the great civilization of Yemeni history. I have visited many historical sites such as Mahram Belqees and Marib Dam. I also visited the Military Museum in Sana’a.
Q: Are you with me that a nation without history is a nation without tourism?
A: I disagree with this idea. Some nations have alternatives, for instance, we have bird watchers, animal lovers and the likes. This is a true tourism. But Yemen possesses all these things. Through the YT, I think that for the old antiquities and manuscripts, it is necessary to organize exhibitions and the old traditions that stretch back into antiquity should be written in different languages. It is easy for the tourist to visit the historical sites, but it is difficult to comprehend and appreciate them completely.
Q: Have you visited other countries?
A: Yes, I have visited many countries, like Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, and I spent twelve years in Morocco. But Yemen is still my favorite destination.