Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh to YT: “Instead of facilitating things for tourists, security bodies put more restrictions on their movements by watching them closely as if suspecting them.” [Archives:2001/18/Interview]
Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Ahmar, chairman of the Yemeni Society for Tourist and Travel Agencies, descends from a well-known family. Mr. Yahya spelled out pitfalls and drawbacks impeding the tourism industry flourishing in Yemen. Hassan al-Zaidi of the Yemen Times met with him and filed the following interview:
Q: How do you assess the tourist activity in the country?
A: Tourist activity has declined remarkably in the past few years owing to many setbacks.
Q: What are these setbacks?
A: First and foremost, is the kidnapping incidents. Secondly, the security escorts. In the past there used to be some difficulties restricting the flow of tourists to the country. However, we pulled together and overcome these obstacles.
However, in the past ten years, kidnapping incidents have been on the rise. Yemen has all the potentials for tourism. However, tourists think the country is risky and insecure. Hence, most of them shun coming to Yemen.
If they venture to come to Yemen, out of their love, they become upset by security escorts which make a mess of the whole thing. The escorts are following outdated procedures with old mentalities, as if we’re living with the medieval ages.
Q: In your opinion, what are the options for these old and outdated procedures?
A: We have already made our demands clear and straightforward since the beginning of the kidnapping incidents, especially before the passing of the Kidnapping Law. We have contended that there is a legislation, effective laws, and prevalent tribal norms. If these fail to be implemented there are other options to consider. However, it is those in charge of the law and order who are the reason behind the spread of the kidnapping incidents. Kidnappers may be illiterate and ignorant. They may not know what they are doing. There is no reason to say that they have legitimate demands, because all the people in all over Yemen have legitimate demands. And if these demands are met through kidnapping tourists, the country will turn into an anarchy. There are many peaceful ways that can be adopted to ask for these demands. Citizens in the historical sites and monuments have also to be involved in the tourist activity so that they know how important it is and how beneficial it is for them.
Q: What are the demands of the tourist agencies to improve the limitations of the security procedures?
A: We have already convened many meetings and came out with certain recommendations. However, officials of the Tourism and Culture Ministry were negative in this regard. We, then, contacted the Interior Ministry and held many meetings. However, the Interior Ministry left our demands on the shelf and forgot about them.
We pressed for removing security escorts and checkpoints. The kind of procedures carried out recently considerably impede the tourist activity and investment process. Many foreigners including investors, working in companies are not allowed to travel outside towns unless they have official permits from the travel agency which is also to be referred to the General Authority for Tourism. It is a rather long story. This sort of procedures impede movements of investors and foreigners inside the country. It is unreasonable that the country press for investment at a time it intensifies restrictions on investors’ movements within the country.
Q: How do you explain travel warnings to Yemen announced by some countries to their citizens?
A: It is natural as foreigners working in embassies and other companies to find it quite difficult to move outside towns to the countryside or any other place to spend the week end or any other vacation. Instead of facilitating things for them, security bodies put more restrictions on their movements by watching them closely as if suspecting them. These procedures do not fit with the time. It is certain that these foreigners give reports to their countries depicting the state of insecurity. This certainly affects the image of Yemen outside despite the fact that these procedures are unnecessary.
Q: What are the major things that attract tourists to come to the country? Are tourist attractions really qualified to attract tourists?
A: Yemen is not an alien on the world map. Whoever hears the word ” Yemen”, goes deep in thought to the time he has read about it. Spontaneously, this stimulates his desire to visit the country.
Most of the travel agency programs cover cultural, historical and tourist sites. However, developing these tourist attraction sites and tourist programs hang on security, stability and implementation of law and order. Not the least of which is the cancellation of the security escorts and check points. There are other options to enforce security and stability. If these are put into effect, tourist agencies will certainly develop simultaneously and come up with new techniques to promote tourists’ interests in the country. Yemen is rich in tourist potentials comparable to other countries. Programs include culture, history, civilization, nature, etc. Moreover, there is an unexplored sea wealth and beauty in the Red Sea.
Swimming can be of the primary resources of the national revenue and would be a major supporter for the national economy.
Q: It’s reported that there are some terrorist groups and hard liner Islamic movements in the country. They are labeled as risky and insecure to citizens by many tourist minded countries. Do you think boosting tourism requires restricting activities and existence of these movements?
A: Yemen has been welcoming all who come to the country, irrespective of their nationalities. However, some Arabs abuse this welcome and attempted to upset security and stability of the country. This makes us have a rather negative view of them. Sometimes, and in many Arab countries, there are many restrictions when it comes to Arabs. However, Yemen embraces all Arabs and welcomes them. The security bodies have to be on the alert to stop these outlaws who abuse Yemen’s hospitality.
Q: How do you view tourism promotion amid all these obstacles? What about Yemen’s tourist participation outside the country?
A: Tourists coming to the country are the best promoters. Yemen also has an active participation in most of the international exhibitions in tourist exporting countries. Tourist agencies play a major role in promoting tourism. Moreover, films and publications are made in collaboration with the Tourism Promotion Council. However, sometimes, and while tourist exhibitions were being organized, some kidnapping incidents took place. This has adverse results. Security bodies have to shoulder the responsibility of keeping security and stability within the country.
Moreover, we did not agree on the way the Tourism Promotion Council was formed. We have convened some meetings and endorsed some plans. However, for ten months the council was not convened. We do not know how things are run inside the council. We press for the passage of a law to establish the Tourism Promotion Council, endorsing its annual decisions and budget.
Q: As the chairman of the Yemeni society for Travel and Tourist Agencies, what is the role the society plays in the tourism field?
A: Most of the activities of the society are focused inside the country. We have contacts with the Arab Tourist Union. Most of our activities are to follow up on problems stirred up by security bodies.
Q: How do you view smuggling and the destroying of antiquities?
A: Yemen has witnessed many civilizations over the past centuries. Antiquities are spread everywhere in Yemen. The authority has to play a pivotal role in promoting the awareness of people to the importance of these antiquities. They have to feel that its their heritage as well. There is a major role for the General Authority for Antiquities to play in this regard. The authority also has to uncover and disclose whoever trades or destroys antiquities to the public and hold them accountable.
Most of our antiquities are still under ground. A lot of effort, time, energy and money have to be exerted to excavate these antiquities. Foreign support can be attained, however, only when donor countries feel that there is serious and sincere attitude on our part to conduct these projects. For example, there are some international organizations funding some excavation campaigns in Mareb.