Tourism Board director talks about challengesEveryone needs to help bring visitors back [Archives:2004/709/Culture]

February 5 2004
Photo from archived article: photos/709/culture1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/709/culture1_1
Taha Al Mahbashi is the Managing Director of the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board, an organization that carries out duties in the promotion field. Following are edited excerpts from a recent interview with Yemen Times writer Ismail Al Ghaberi.

Q. What are the remarkable duties implemented by the YTPB?
A. The Board has carried out many duties that serve the public and private sectors in Yemen. The most significant thing that the board focused on during the last year was how to change the negative image stamped on the minds of travelers and tour operators in Europe concerning the safety and security situation.
As you know, Yemen witnessed kidnapping events in 1990s. Many of the European press and media transmitted exaggerated news on such events and that affected negatively on the tourism movement to Yemen.
Also the September 11 Events in USA affected the movement of tourists to the region. So the Board made great efforts to change such impressions on the safety and security situation in Yemen. Many journalists were invited to visit Yemen from the countries that have tourist export markets and they went back home with good impressions about Yemen. Many articles were written on Yemen in their press, which confirmed that there is nothing to fear about while you are in Yemen. It will be useless if any promotional efforts done for tourism without changing entirely such negative image in the countries of tourism sources.

Q. The National Tourism Conference was recently held. How do you see its outcomes?
A. Well, the National Conference for Tourism was held as a result to the recession of tourism in Yemen in the last four years. So the most significant outcomes that reached by the participants were as the following:
The Conference emphasized preparing a strategic master plan to develop the tourism sector in the long-term; it demanded the concerned authorities to review the current investment law and legislations relating tourism investment and remove all the obstacles facing investment in tourism sector; it stressed the Yemeni Embassies provide facilities in issuing tourism entry visa to Yemen; it emphasized the importance of protecting the environment and the historical sites; and it stressed strengthening security procedures and ensuring safety of tourists.

Q. What are the most outstanding activities being carried out by YTPB currently?
A. The most outstanding activities that being implemented by the Board as the following: In the field of participation in the international Exhibitions, the Board has participated in Summer Carnival of Qatar World Travel Market, London (WTM), JATA Travel Fair in Japan, and the ETM in Dubai, and we preparing currently to participate in Milan (BIT) and Berlin Tourist Exhibition (ITB). We also organized tourism and cultural events in Vienna, Austria and Qatar.
We are looking for PR companies, which can be appointed to represent YTPB in the European tourist markets owing to our success with an Italian PR company. In addition, the board has produced a film on Socotra and, printed many brochures and tourist guidebooks and maps.

Q. What are the obstacles or difficulties that effect tourism in Yemen?
A. Frankly, the difficulties that hit tourism are the following:
1. Travel advices issued in the export tourist countries regarding safety and security in Yemen, which is considered one of the major obstacles against tourism to Yemen. Tour operators say we know that Yemen enjoys with an incomparable tourism potential as a result to the natural and cultural diversity found nowhere else in the world. But the public countries fear about their safety as their governments have advised their citizens not to travel to Yemen. The Yemeni government has made several contacts to stop such advices as it has taken many procedures concerning safety. One of these procedures came at the beginning of this year, 2004, with the deployment of police forces throughout the Yemeni territories.
2. The private sector lacks experience and the professional tourist guides, lack awareness about the real tourism potential in Yemen that attract the modes of tourists. Also high prices don't encourage the domestic tourism which is in my opinion the base of the tourism industry in Yemen.
3. Tourism infrastructure and hotels administration experience, especially in those three and two stars located outside the capital.
4. The bureaucracy procedures of the entry (visas) to Yemen.
5. The lack of help from private sector in the field of tourism investment. The private sector should play great role in tourism in Yemen. Yet, its capabilities and its experience, comparison with other sectors abroad, are not on the same level. We are calling also for the Arab and foreign companies to invest in the field of tourism and I think the government has supported the serious investments in this vital sector.

Q. With all the talk about the tourism recession in Yemen, how do you reply? Any other comment?
A. As I have said, there were several causes that have effected tourism in Yemen. Some were international and others were internally led to the tourism recession during the last three years. But now we are very optimistic about the future of tourism in Yemen, as many of tour operators have regained their confidence in the Yemen tourist market as one of the important competitive markets. The leadership is playing a very important to support this vital sector in a sustainable way, as it considered one of the most economical assets in Yemen.

Q. Any last comments?
A. Thanks to Yemen Times for its efforts to promote Yemen tourism. I believe that the local media especially the English Yemeni press should avoid negative news which disfigures the image of Yemen abroad.