New Ideas for Tourism Industry [Archives:1999/18/Business & Economy]

May 3 1999

Last week, there was a seminar on ecotourism. There were a number of officials and clerks, as well as representatives of the private sector.
On this occasion, Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times filed the following interviews with two officials.
1. Hector Ceballos Lascurain Hector is a Mexican architect and environmentalist. He works as a consultant or special advisor on ecotourism to several international organizations like IUCN (World Conservation Union), World Tourism Organization and the Ecotourism Society. He has done consulting work and research in 56 countries around the world in the field of ecotourism.
Right now he is in Yemen to develop a national ecotourism strategy for the country.
Q: What exactly is ecotourism or environmental tourism?
A: Ecotourism has to do with tourists visiting and enjoying the natural habitat. The idea is to protect and conserve these natural areas, while at the same time introducing cultural elements.
Ecotourism has become a tool for conservation and an instrument for sustainable development
Q: How do you define ecotourism within the Yemeni context?
A: Yemen has wonderful ecotourist attractions. You have beautiful natural resources, mountains, beaches, valleys, islands, especially the Socotra island, which is a unique place for endemic plants, animals especially birds. And you have a wonderful cultural heritage. The beautiful mountain villages, the traditional architecture, archeological sites, clean beaches, etc. In other words, you still have a lot of unspoiled natural habitat and strong elements of cultural heritage which make Yemen a potentially very important country in the future of Ecotourism.
Q: Who do you work with in Yemen?
A: I am a consultant working within the framework of a UNDP Program for the conservation of the ecology and environment here in Yemen. Within ecotourism, I work with Sub-Program 5. The program director is Ms. Najat Al Shami, an able woman who works for General Tourism Authority.
Q: How can you be optimistic about the future of tourism in Yemen when it is almost dead now?
A: The future can be very bright if some problems are solved in the near future. These are the serious issues related to safety in Yemen. Unfortunately, we have had some bad incidents, and we know that bad news travels faster than good news. All the world has heard what happened here in December, 1998 – the kidnapping and murdering of several tourists. The Yemeni authorities have to fix this image before we can expect real change. Once safety is assured in Yemen, then you have to promote this new image and bring in new ideas like ecotourism. Right now, the tourism flow has been going down over the last four months.
Q: What are the main attractions for tourism-related investments in Yemen?
A: First of all, let me tell you that businessmen can discover opportunities on their own. They do not need to be told.
In Yemen, there is for instance Socotra Island, which, if properly exploited, can be a haven for tourists, given its endemic plants and animals, as well as the beautiful beaches. Then there beautiful towns and cities like Tarim, Seiyoon, Shibam, Sanaa, etc. Investments in beaches and diving/snorkeling activities are also worthwhile.
The idea is to offer more facilities for the tourists to visit these places. You need professional guides that know about ecotourism, and can interpret the natural and the cultural heritage. You need appropriate lodging facilities. For example, tourists travel long distances without having restrooms available along the way.
Q: Can you share some aspects of the national ecotourism strategy draft you are preparing?
A: I am working on the national ecotourism strategy for Yemen. I will finish the final document in June. Though it contains no secrets, it is only appropriate that the relevant authorities have a look at it first before the general public can read it in the media.
2. Najat Al-Shami:
A young and confidant woman, Najat is the manager of Sub-Program 5 of the Ecotourism Project. She has her BA from Sanaa University.
Q: How do you asses this seminar?
A: This is part of the work we are doing here. Our program includes a training component because Ecotourism, as you may know, is a new concept here in Yemen.
The participants are learning a number of things as related to the concept. I have to say that this involves a lot of linkages and interconnections between many sectors.
Q: How seriously do our officials take tourism and its potential?
A: I think the talk is good. From the president to the prime minister to the minister to the chairman of the Tourism Authority, they all repeat that this is an important sector.
Q: And what is your feeling?
A: I am certain the potential is great. For a country in need of hard currency, tourism is indeed a winner.