Mazen Al-Shaibani: ” The establishment of the ministry of Tourism was a dream coming True” [Archives:2008/1163/Business & Economy]

May 12 2008

Interviewed by: YemenTimes Staff
Universal Tourism Group is Yemen's leading travel and tourism group with companies in almost all sectors of the tourism industry. Universal tourism has gone through a transformation since its establishment in 1983. In this interview we speak to Mazen Al-Shaibani, The marketing manager of the group regarding the group's experience so far and future ambitions.

YT: Kindly brief us on Universal Group and its scope of work.

Universal Group was established in 1983 in travel and tourism sector. Now the group has evolved and expanded to include over 12 companies and still expanding. Now it covers Travel, Tourism, Hospitality (6 Hotels around Yemen), Hertz international franchise for car rentals, Touring company handling any kind of tours in Yemen, Automobile Club (YCTA), DHL, TetraPak, Investment Company, Foreign Exchange Company, and Almar Oil & Gas Services. We have also expanded abroad to establish a Tourism company in Dubai named Arabia Felix Voyages. With this selective blend of travel solution franchise and companies, we lead the market in Quality, Performance and Cost.

YT: The last twenty years or so witnessed several trends in the tourism industry in Yemen, can you tell us more about your experience with these trends?

For twenty five years, we continuously improved our services to offer international standards of quality and service. We went far to build six hotels around the country in tourist attraction sites, where there were no services before. We created a variety of services according to the international demands and trends. Adventure, expedition, documentary, sports, camps, royalty escorts, trekking…etc. Packages are offered anytime of the year, and results exceeded visitors' expectations. As we continuously observe and improve our services according to international trends, we maintain leadership and creditability in the market. We recently implemented ISO Quality System to implement worldwide management tactics to ensure faster, easier, more professional services to grant comfort to our visitors.

YT: Security restrictions and the international media portray Yemen as an unsafe country for tourism, what is your coping mechanism for this particular issue?

This certainly affects our annual business share compared to other countries, but we still receive many tourists around the year, who are in love with Yemen. We generated other sources of tourism business, for example – we are advocating for domestic tourism among citizens and settled foreigners. That's not all, as we now focus on other parts of the world (other from the usual most frequented tourist countries) to encourage them to visit Yemen. This was great as there was less competition, and those governments are cooperative in general.

YT: Do you develop specific tourism packages to Yemen to attract particular segments, for example adventure seekers?

Yes, we had experts who visited Yemen for expedition tours or documentary tours like Discovery channel and BBC Channel. They received all information desired, and scheduled meetings with official for their purposes. Adventure packages are available, and with varieties (mountains, deserts, coastal adventures..etc). Though resources are minimal, but we maintain our quality even if we have to invest on equipment for a single tour.

YT: How about domestic tourism, is the growth potential still untapped?

We have signed many contracts with local hotels to reduce accommodation costs to serve this cause. Yemenis now can enjoy the splendors of their country in reduced prices up to % 50. Foreigners in Yemen also can utilize the same offers.

YT: Statistics indicate that large numbers of tourists coming to Yemen originate from neighboring gulf countries; do you have a regional marketing strategy targeting gulf audience?

Arabia Felix – Dubai, plays a vital roll in this share. The main purpose of establishing this company was to link UAE, KSA, Oman and Yemen in packages of reduced costs. While Mr. Mahmood Al Shaibani manages Universal Touring Company in Yemen to expand its tourism, Mr. Marco levidiotti works from Dubai in Arabia Felix company to bond the huge tourism potentials in KSA, UAE and Oman to introduce Yemen as another hot destination. Mr. Marco is a rare person in this world who helped in creating modern Yemeni tourism, and now he impacts a wider market to further mark Yemen as an affordable beautiful destination to the world.

YT: What are the main problems the tourism industry faces in Yemen?

As resources in Yemen are very limited and unavailable in some tourism sectors, we also face accommodation high prices compared to other countries. For example, Yemen offers $50 for a night in a normal 4 stars hotels, while you can be in a 5 stars hotel in Cairo for the same; therefore, we can't really compete with those countries in prices, not to mention their tourism huge potentials and resources. Hard to access historical information to supply tourists is also another problem. Preserving environment and historical sites and artifacts also are also another constrain to the growth of this industry. These are the main and critical afflictions of tourism industry.

YT: The Ministry of Tourism has launched several campaigns to promote tourism and investment into the tourism sector in Yemen. How do you value such activities?

The ministry was a dream come true to this industry. Established in 2006, under the leadership of the young minister, Mr. Nabil al Fakih; we now have more accurate statistics of visitors to decide better on where to invest and focus. The ministry also created investment projects blueprints for investors from around the world to study them and enrich the country with new tourism projects. While our chairman, Mr. Alwan Al Shaibani, is the president of the Yemeni Hotels Union, and the vice president of Yemen Tourism promotion Board, we work hand in hand with the ministry to better serve the nation.

YT: What are the future expansion plans for Universal Group?

We focus now on opening a new hotel in Sana'a besides Shahran in 2009, which is a 5 stars hotel, with an international management agency, under our chain on Hotels. It will be called Bir Al Azab hotel, which consists of seven palaces aged around 400 years, refurbished and renewed for the latest technologies complying with international 5 stars standards. We also plan to enter oil and gas services sector from logistics and supply of spare parts under our newly opened “Almar Co. for oil & gas services””. We believe that this sector will serve as a catalyst between oil and Tourism industries.

YT: Any last comments?

Yes. As we celebrate our 25th Silver jubilee Anniversary next Year