On the road to recoveryMore regional visitors help boost tourism [Archives:2004/708/Culture]

February 2 2004

By Selina Denman
For the Yemen Times

Yemen's tourism industry is showing the first signs of recovery, following a series of setbacks over recent years.
“The number of international tourist arrivals has fluctuated dramatically, reflecting problems both internal and external to Yemen.
“However, international visitor arrivals in 2002 recorded good growth, from 75,600 in 2001 to 98,000 in 2002, representing a rise of 30 per cent over 2001 and the highest volume in the last few years,” said the director of the Yemen Tourism Promotion Broad, Taha Al-Mahbashi.
Travel warnings issued by a number of European governments have deprived Yemen of many of its main markets. “The composition of Yemen's visitors by origin shows the severe loss of tourists from Europe, which has traditionally been Yemen's principle source market, contributing almost 60 per cent of arrivals,” said Al-Mahbashi.
However, the downturn in European arrivals has been counterbalanced by a rapid rise in the number of regional visitors. Since 1997, there has been a steady increase in Middle Eastern arrivals, culminating in a total of 63,415 in 2002.
Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria and Saudi Arabia are all displaying a newfound interest in the country. “Strong initiatives are presently being taken by Yemeni operators to build up demand from the Middle East and other markets which are less sensitive than European markets to political factors,” stated Al-Mahbashi.
This emerging trend has been welcomed by the industry. “It is hoped that these sought after Arab tourists will come in greater numbers, contributing to the influx of international visitors,” commented general manager, Universal Touring Company, Marco Livadiotti. There are many aspects of Yemen that appeal to regional travelers: “In the Middle East there are still travelers who are not nightlife orientated. They may be interested in culture and want to being their children.
Warm climate helps
“The weather is also and attraction. There is a market for this kind of tourism. We need exposure. People need to be told that Yemen has a lot to see,” commented director of sales and marketing, Sheraton Sana'a, Saqib Anwar.
Many in the industry agree, and are pushing for wide-scale promotional campaigns that will redress the international perception of Yemen. Re-educating the international al-arena and reconstructing Yemen's reputation abroad should be a top priority, according to industry insiders.
The government has also recognized that positive promotion is vital to the success of the tourism sector.
“Yemen has a great cultural heritage and hasn't had the chance to show this to the rest of the world. Nobody knows about the product because it has appeared in the media very little,” commented Yemen's minister of tourism, Khalid Alrowaishan.
There are other areas that need attention before Yemen can establish itself as a viable tourism destination, according to production manager, Abu Taleb Group, Mohammed Abu Taleb.
“The airport is too small and too old and the process of passport registration takes too long. We need to show a better face for Yemen. Most international flights come through Sana'a and we needs to be examined. Internal security measures and external pressure from the US have converted the visa process into a long and tedious task.
“We have to invite clients. We must send an official letter with names and passport numbers to embassies. If you are an individual you can't travel, as you need a tour operator to organize your visit. This is a major problem,” claimed Abu Taleb.
While all in the industry agree that there is room for improvement, there is a general consensus that the ministry of tourism, through the recently rejuvenated Tourism Promotion Board, is taking a more proactive stance than ever. “
The tourism board is listening to what we have to say and asking for our participation. They are serious about improving tourism. It won't happen in the short term, but it will in the mid to long term,” said Sheraton's Anwar.
While an official tourism master plan has not yet been drawn up, guidelines for the development of the industry have been established. They include targeting a wider range of markets, creating essential infrastructure, and identifying and conserving potential tourism sites.
The cultivation of high yield and low volume international tourism is high on the agenda. “Yemen's goal has always been to become a main cultural destination in the region, aiming at a market of prestigious clients who are willing to spend more to avoid overrun destinations,” Livadiotti said.

Yemen calls for investors
Yemen's General Investment Authority has created a number of tourism-related investment opportunities. Initiatives include a tourist resort in the Mukalla region of Hadramout.
The authority proposes the construction of an international standard tourist and health resort, which will be classified at no less than three-star. The $5 million project would utilize the area's hot springs and include a 30-bedroom hotel and 12 chalets.
Additional amenities would include a restaurant, swimming pool and a spa treatment area. Other suggested projects include a $ 3 million tourist village on Socotra Island. It would offer a 30-bedroom hotel or 30 chalet units, and marine sports, such as diving, fishing and swimming.
The General Investment Authority is also calling for $ 3 million to be invested in a fleet of ten fully equipped tourist buses for transportation to and from Hodeidah.
Also, a tourism conference was recently held in Sana'a, giving the private and public sectors an opportunity to discuss key issues concerning the industry. The event was hosted by Sheraton Sana'a on October 17 to 20.
“The Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized the second Tourism consequences for Yemeni tourism of uncertainly resulting from a number of problems, both internal and external, in recent years,” explained director, Tourism Promotion Board, Taha Al-Mahbashi.
The conference focused on the need to develop a strategic master plan for the long-term development of tourism in Yemen. “In addition, the conference demanded that the concerned authorities review current investment laws and legislation relating to tourism investment and remove all obstacles facing investment in the tourism sector.”
With respect to historical site conservation and environmental protection, the conference emphasized the importance of protecting resources from negative conduct. It also raised awareness of the importance of protecting the environment and conserving historical sites, noted Al-Mahbashi.
Visa procedures and security issues were also addressed the importance of strengthening and developing security procedures and ensuring the safety of the community in general, and tourist in particular.
The conference marks a move towards increased cooperation between the public and private sectors. Follow-up sessions are expected to take place, with selected industry representatives communicating directly with Yemen's minister of tourism.