Tourism and Environment minister: The ministry is exploring new potential markets that bring tourists to Yemen [Archives:2002/10/Reportage]
Yemens tourism industry has suffered since the September 11 attacks on the USA.
More than 90% of international booking contracts, in fact, were cancelled, causing huge losses to tourism business and related services.
Some tourism establishments closed down and others laid-off or sent away most of their employees on holidays without pay.
Some hotels have been operating at 5-10% of their operation capacities.
In light of this new and difficult situation, Yemen Times writer Ismail al-Ghabri met with Mr. Abdul Malik Abdul Rahman al-Eryani, Minister of Tourism and Environment.
Following is an edited version of their conversation.
YT – What are the measures being taken by the ministry to face the catastrophic fallout of the September 11 attacks on the USA?
Al-Eryani – The ministry has taken steps to address this issue. The High Tourism Council devoted a meeting in November to deal with this issue. The council has approved a comprehensive plan and policy. Accordingly, a joint committee involving the ministry, the Hotel Union and Tourism Agencies Society was established to carefully study the magnitude of the impact.
The ministry is exploring new potential markets that bring tourists to Yemen, from such places as other Arab countries, South East Asia and Africa in addition to enhancing domestic tourism. Tourism promotion will be enhanced, targeting these markets, and Yemenia flight networks will be gradually expanded.
More other urgent measures have been taken to mitigate the direct impacts on the industry and limit losses to tourism establishments. The package includes postponing taxes due on affected establishments for the period 1999 to 2001, and giving more support for flight passenger insurance.
YT – What are the new projects to be lunched by the ministry in the year 2002?
Al-Eryani – The ministry will continue to support tourism business. Efforts will be made to open new markets. We are planning in 2002 to organize promotional activities targeting potential tourism. 2002 will see a change in our promotional and marketing activities both at the international and national levels. The ministry will also work on revising our tourism strategy and policy.
YT – What about the crippled projects, such as the construction of tourist townships and hotels?
Al-Eryani – A decision was taken by the High Tourism Council to assist such projects. Investment facilities will be granted to contribute in payment of interest due on tourism investment loans and postponement of payment deadlines.
YT – What are the major obstacles hindering tourism in Yemen?
Al-Eryani – The strategic vision for 2025 had identified the tourism industry as an important sector contributing to the economic development of the nation. We are taking serious measures to improve the performance of his sector.
However there are certain obstacles hindering tourism that need to be addressed both in the short run and long run. There is a need to improve the infrastructure. The legal and institutional framework is also a priority. Other areas include improvement of tourism police services and development of national capacities and skills operating in the industry and serving the sector.
YT – Does the ministry have any role in fighting kidnapping?
Al-Eryani – No doubt, kidnappings have affected the tourism industry and our image abroad. The government has taken serious measures to address this issue. A special law was enacted in 1998 enacting penalties. The ministry is cooperating with the Ministry of Interior and other relevant agencies. Actions have been and are taken to improve tourism security services and to enhance local community participation in tourism business.
YT – Yemen has a unique biodiversity, especially in its islands? Are there any investors in these islands?
Al-Eryani – Indeed Yemen is rich with its biodiversity, especially in the islands. Socotra Island is unique in its natural resources and biodiversity. We are committed to integrate economic concerns with environmental protection in environmentally sensitive areas.
For example, in the case of Socotra a zoning plan has been prepared and approved, identifying resource use reserve, general use zone, national parks, areas of special botanical interest and nature sanctuary. A draft Master plan has been prepared aiming to achieve socio-economical development in the island and preserve its unique biodiversity. An eco-tourism department has been set up and we are cooperating with the Island Development authority concerning tourism investment in the islands. Our aim is to promote tourism activities and investments based on sound environmental impact assessment.
YT – Why doesnt the ministry promote domestic tourism?
Al-Eryani – This is not true. We are paying attention to domestic tourism and encourage this field. As I have mentioned earlier, we are planning to organize domestic promotional activities in four governates. This package includes organization of tourism exhibitions, marketing seasons and awareness campaigns. Participation of local community in tourism activities is also an important issue in our agendas.
YT – The World Earth Summit will be held this year. What has the ministry planned for this summit?
Al-Eryani – Preparations for the nations participation in the World Submit on Sustainable Development has been underway since October 2001. A committee and a temporary secretariat have been set up to supervise and follow up the process.
The preparatory committee has been mandated to prepare the National Report on Sustainable Development to be presented to the summit, scheduled to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002. The committee consists of representatives from relevant ministries, authorities, academic institutions, womens associations, the private sector and environmental NGOs.
The committee has already two meetings to launch the preparation, review progress made on environmental management at the local level, preparation process plans, formation of seven thematic working group and the outline of the working papers of these groups.
A national workshop was organized on January 21st to review guidelines for the preparation of the national report and exchange information with relevant stakeholder. We will be discussing the draft report soon ,in March, in a national forum.
At the regional level, we have been actively involved in preparation of the regional report. In fact Yemen is chairing the Arab group in Johannesburg.
YT – There are different groups involved in protecting the environment. How can these bodies consolidate the work of the ministry?
Al-Eryani – Environment protection and concern for sustainable use of the natural resources has grown gradually since the late 80s, both on the part of the government and the public. The government has been undertaking active roles in environmental management and institutionalized environmental work. The Ministry of Tourism and Environment was established in 2001 with broad responsibilities for environmental management.
Growing public interest resulted in the creation of a number management systems and the formation of a number of non-governmental organizations and increasing involvement of media in environmental issues. The academic institutions and scientific communities also got more involved in environmental research. Environmental research centers have been introduced in Aden, Sanaa, Hadramout and Hodaidah universities.
We cooperate with these groups and make use of their facilities. National consultants and academics have been providing services to environmental work whenever a major action is planned and relevant entities and stakeholders are invited to join. The ministry is also considering resource mobilization from donor communities not only for the ministry and its authorities, but also for other relevant agencies and NGOs.
YT – Many western countries have advised their citizens not to visit Yemen. Has the ministry taken action to ameliorate the image of Yemen overseas?
Al-Eryani – European countries such the as Germany, UK and Italy have already removed such bans. This is a step ahead and reflects the achievement of the ministry and our diplomatic mission to improve the image of Yemen overseas.
YT – Any final comments?
Al-Eryani – The ministry appreciates your interest in tourism and environmental sectors and is interested to enhance the role of media to support tourism promotion and environmental awareness.