Yemen’s Hidden Jewel: Cultural Tourism [Archives:2007/1070/Culture]

July 23 2007

Fouad Musaed
[email protected]
For Yemen Times

The motivation behind cultural tourism is the visitation of monumental and historical sites and museums as well as the viewing of handicrafts and other artistic activities such as exhibitions and festivals. The uniqueness of features present in such tourism, makes it an attractive asset for Yemen's economy.

Deputy Head of the Tourism Promotion General Authority Abdu Al-Sanawi believes that cultural tourism represents the main sector of tourism in Yemen, as the country possesses a number of historical and monumental sites, which capture the attention of visitors from all over the world. Al-Sanawi also noted the advantage of cultural tourism's lack of infrastructural needs as opposed to the developmental needs of luxury tourism.

Bettina, a girl from Germany who has done her fair share of traveling, admired the unique features of Yemen's tourist attractions and wished Yemen would give more attention to its historical sites.

The same opinion was shared by her fried Nina, who told us that she had visited Old Sana'a, Habb Fort in Ibb, Al-America School in Rad'a, Damt Spa, Dhamar's Hamam Ali and Shibam Kawkaban, assuring us that she was impressed by everything she had seen.

Official statistics indicate that Yemen received over 380,000 USD during 2006 from Arab and foreign countries and the total profit reached USD 309 million, with an increase of USD 50 million from 2005.

Money earned from cultural activities comprises a great portion of the increase in profit. From amongst the cultural offerings of Yemen are various festivals, restored ancient routes, and theatrical and musical productions, as well as exhibitions and conferences.

Cultural tourism, nowadays, is not confined to historical features as new elements have been introduced in an effort to diversify the tourism industry and attract more visitors. This blossoming industry also includes restoration of old national and international routes, together with pools, wells, and other monumental features.

Valery Patin from the International Council of Monuments and Sites believes that cultural tourism consists of many customs linked to the cultural and natural heritage of Yemen. Such tourism customs include: visiting monumental and natural sites, participation in festivals, visiting temporary exhibitions, vacations spent in natural reserves including eco-tourism and ethno-tourism, and residing in historical buildings.

Yemen has many tourist sites including Old Sana'a, Shibam Kawkaban, Socotra, Dar Al-Hajar, Aden's Cisterns, Otmah, Al-Makha, Sirrah, Mareb Dam, Sarwah, Sayun Palace, Tarim, Yafrus, Zabid and Tihama. It is also rich in cultural heritage. There exist many artifacts and handicrafts like onyx and frankincense, together with unique architectural designs seen in mosques, temples, museums, markets and houses.

During the 1960s and 70s, cultural tourism represented just five percent of Yemen's tourist industry, however, recent figures span anywhere from 12 to 20 percent.

According to Valery, the increased interest in such historical features has caused a lot of demands for infrastructure and tourist residence and such monuments now demand protection as they help economic development.

In addition, it is important to include locals in the development process through training courses, jobs, supporting of handicrafts, cooking, securing the reception of local residents and conducting celebrations.

It is important to give special attention to hosting tourists in areas close to monumental sites via the placement of hotels or even apartments for renting; however, they should maintain the country's traditional architectural features.

The achievements of the Tourism Ministry and Tourist Promotion Program include:

Preparing an executive matrix for tourism within the frame of the five-year plan (2006-2010).

Issuing legislation that regulates the functions of tourist facilities including hotels, housing, restaurants, tourism agencies, tourist guides, and tourist transport.

Conducting a tourist survey for tourist facilities and the work force as well as conducting training courses for those preparing the survey.

Forming the Yemeni Tourist Writers Association.

Conducting many tourist festivals including Al-Baldah in Hadramout, Ibb Tourist Festival, Qirnaw Second Festival as well as implementing accompanying activities.

Preparing scientific studies as well as documenting the targeted areas (as of now 56 sites have been documented).

Issuing tourist and promotional postures for over 18 tourist scenes.

Holding a consultative meeting for all those involved in tourism including the Ministry of Tourism, private sector, and tourist police in order to discuss the means by which they can upgrade the tourist industry and resolve the problems hindering its development.

Preparing architectural plans for tourist projects (restaurants, tourist villages, hotels, services, etc) as well as specifying the targeted areas of those projects.

Allowing the private sector to establish tourist transport companies according to investment law.

Signing memorandums of understanding for various investment projects.

Setting potential amendments to investment law with an aim to improve the investment environment with special articles about tourist investment.

Preparing tourist maps for main cities in Yemen (Sana'a, Taiz, Aden, Taiz, Ibb, Hadramout, Mareb and Al-Hodeidah).

Preparing promotional brochures in different languages including English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

Preparing courses for tourist police and providing them with telecommunication means to facilitate their communication needs.