Tourism and tourist services…..In dire need of improvement [Archives:2003/641/Culture]

June 12 2003
Such touristic potential is essential for hotel tourism industry
Such touristic potential is essential for hotel tourism industry
Mohammed Ahmed Ali
Mohammed Ahmed Ali
Salah Saleh Ahmed
Yemen Times, Taiz

Tourism with all its aspects is considered a worldwide a most profitable industry that enhances capital income and improves economy. In spite of this fact it is unfortunate that in Yemen, with all its promising tourist aspects participates in the national income with less than 2%, a consequence of a pathetic situation and dire mistakes.
A particular aspect of tourism is the services providing luxury and entertainment for tourists, or even the basic needs such as hotels and guest houses. There is no encouraging service infrastructure, such as electricity, water and roads, and the tourist places are quite a few and unattended to. High taxation and hence high service prices, non-existent publicity through brochures and pamphlets, and no organized cultural events such as fairs, exhibitions and the like. As such there isn't any professional training or specialized courses dealing with promoting tourism and improving the tourist cadre's skills. All those are many aspects of one problem, and in order to get a feel of what the real issue is, we spoke to a number of hotel owners and managers in Taiz, here is what they said:

State is not supporting us:
Mohammed Ahmed Ali, Manager of Royal Hotel said: “The state is not concerned about supporting tourism; the government does not encourage tourism through customs exemption instead taxes are getting higher and higher by the day in spite of the down phase of economy. Even the municipality permit before the local councils it used to cost 5000 YR now it costs 25000 YR. The lease amount that we pay is 80,000 YR and if there is a relative tourist activity then it's 130 -150 thousand YR, all this in circumstances where there are no services of water which is supplied only once a month so we are forced to buy it for the hotels consumption and electricity bills are soaring high.”
Regarding solutions and demands he commented that they demand the planning and development office to stop the chaotic and wrong practices and the tax authority to deploy a policy that encourages tourism not discourages it.

No organized publicity:
Head of Yemen Tourist Hotel, Mr. Ahmed Radman Mohammed Othman pointed to the fact that there is no real organized publicizing and hence the job which is originally of the government has been made the responsibility of the private business owners to manage. Particularly for developing tourism in Taiz, he emphasized that there is no keen interest by Ministry of Tourism to do so, in fact roads and streets have been as they were for the past 10 years, in fact they are becoming worse. Another point which Mr. Radman commented on is the unclear separation between authorities' responsibilities and domains. “Not only that there is no distinct assignment of responsibilities in the government offices, but the taxes are unreasonably high; we must pay 5% for city enhancement, 2% supporting tourism, 7% production taxes. What's more is the services charge which was increased to 280%. And last but not least is the ugly blackmailing that is practiced by all government offices especially environment and health authorities that have been annoying all hotels without a fair reason. All these points put pressure on hotel industry and if nothing is improved unfortunately we might as well close down like 22 May Hotel and Al-Majeedi Hotel” he added.
Ahmed Radman demanded for development of the city and to provide tourist places and to take care of cleaning the internal city and enhancing the flood drainage system. He asked for workshops and seminars and courses to be organized for training the cadre working in tourism, and especially thanked the Yemen Times for what it has done for improving tourism in Yemen.

Head of Environment and Tourism Taiz Branch: “We are just mediators”:
Talking to the authorities concerned, we spoke to the Environment and Tourism Office in Taiz, head of the office Mr. Sadiq Muhsin Salah said: “In Taiz alone there are more than 38 tourist hotel of various categories and stars, and what they are suffering from is not something internally present only, for this is a global problem and the economy down phase is worldwide. There is not much foreign tourist action and they at least for the time being are depending on internal tourism. As for their complaints regarding high taxation and fees; the decree by the council of ministers No. 283 approved many discounts and incentives for encouraging tourism and enhancing the situation. We know about the problems these hotels are facing and a number of hoteliers have raised this issue to us before this. But this does not mean cancel all taxes and fees because it's not an issue that only we are authorized to deal with; there is a legislation council that approves and authenticates any decision. We just work as an intermediate agency and we convey the problems and circumstances of the local market to this authority and demand assistance for them.”
Mr. Salah commented on the infrastructure problem saying that in the first place this infrastructure depends on the private sector and anyway the country has undergone good improvements in this field especially with the new investment law which granted investors many privileges and canceled custom taxes. These investors have been given free of charge pieces of land for investment in this field. And all is required is publicity and marketing.
When asked about absence of organized publicity, he replied that there is, proof being that the ministry had many international participation last year. The Taiz office worked on publishing the first tourist guide for Taiz that contained tourist information, we also produced tourist maps and restored the Cairo Fort. “We are trying our best within our scarce resources.” He added.
About the Ministry of Tourism's plan for Taiz, he said: “The plan is to continue encouraging investors and highlight the national products in local and international markets. It was obvious last year the large number of number of tourists who came from neighboring countries especially KSA and Japan. We hope to reach the aspired for levels. There is also a will to decrease taxation and fees but at the time being we are still following the 283 decree and to implement it fully.”

Power Authorities: No Nothing much to say:
We moved next to the power supply authorities, especially that it is claimed that bills have increased by 280%. So we talked with the Taiz Branch of Power Supply manager Engineer Jalal Nashir Saif who simply replied in one line: “It is a fixed standard rate in the entire republic and is enforced by the Council of Ministries.”

Inspections, and blackmailing:
What about the Environmental Health Office that most of the hotels were repeatedly complaining about? So we contacted the Head of the Environment and Health office Mr. Mansoor Al-Abyadh who replied: “Of course there are inspection visits every 15 days to hotels with restaurants in order to ensure safety of food. As for hotels without restaurants we visit them once a month. We know about the blackmailing and we have produced a declaration to all our staff regarding this aspect. Unfortunately they still exist but little has been done to combat it.”

Hotel Tourism reality in Taiz has a long way to go before it could fall within accepted terms. It requires many facilities and services that should be improved immediately. If nothing is done and if the old policy still persists a true catastrophe will take place. The true responsibility befalls on the head of the Environmental and Tourism Office that is turning a deaf ear to the complaints. It's not true that his job should be confounded to producing maps kept endlessly in the office store rooms or a tourist guide that was not been even noticed. There is more than the Cairo Fort to be restored. True that it is a general policy that comes from the central authorities in the Capital Secretariat but the branch office can do many projects and has the authority to improve the situation in Taiz.
There should be a plan, a complete strategy that tackles all the aspects of tourism and sincerely combats corruption. Only then would the tourist scene improves and better tourism would materialize.