By Shreya Shimpi
How do you see India as a market in terms of tourism?
Since 2014, India has been occupying a large market share in terms of tourism and we see a huge potential there. We have been continuously growing our network and connectivity. There are 1080 flights per week across India. The growth factor is almost 95%. Indian travellers are very specific in terms of their demands when it comes to tourism. They want value for money. Also, families travelling to Sharjah would like their kids to learn as they explore our city. Their aim is not just travel, but edutainment which is a combination of education and entertainment and we are delighted to offer them that. Sharjah is not very commercial and we endeavour to provide our tourists with insights into our culture and traditions through our museums, architecture, cuisine etc.
Are there any travel restrictions at present especially concerning Covid-19?
We have lifted all the travel restrictions. We are dynamic and were one of the few cities to have lifted such restrictions quite early and we aim and attracting more tourists to Sharjah post-pandemic.
What are the new attractions that tourists can visit in Sharjah?
Even during the pandemic, we have invested heavily in the infrastructure. We feel it is critical to showcase our new developments to our travellers. The biggest Safari in the world after Africa has now opened in Sharjah. It aims at keeping the animals in their natural habitat. It is an 8.5 sq. km park and is home to over 120 African species and 50,000 other species which include the black rhino, white rhino etc. It aims at providing information regarding the various flora and fauna thereby providing them, especially kids with an education along with entertainment. Only a certain number of visitors are allowed each day. The safari has also created many job opportunities.
What are the other attractions worth exploring?
Tourists can check out the “Al Suhub Rest House” which is a “cloud lounge” situated 600 metres above sea level. It provides excellent panoramic views of the city. The other places worth visiting are the Al Dhaid Fort, Al Faya Retreat etc. The Al Faya Retreat is a five-star boutique hotel( which was earlier a clinic) with just five rooms, but provides a unique personalised experience. The Discovery Centre showcases a rich history which dates back to nearly 3000 years with proven evidence of human existence. Sharjah has more than fifty per cent of the country’s museums and rare treat for history connoisseurs. There are also various artefacts on display in the museums. The museums are not just for viewing artefacts, but they also provide a 360 degree experience since they are well equipped with cafeterias and eateries. The Sharjah Biennial Art Exhibition is held every year since 1993. Sharjah is suitable for all age groups as a tourist destination. It has been awarded as the ‘International Child-Friendly Destination’ by the United Nations. It has also been called ‘The Capital of Arab Culture’ by UNESCO.
Does Sharjah have anything to offer for adventure lovers?
Yes. We have started hiking trails on the East coast and a new bicycle track which is 24 km long in the desert and is one-of-a-kind. It is equipped with all facilities such as restrooms, eateries etc. There is also kayaking across the east and west coast.
Are there any new marketing strategies that have been implemented?
We like to keep up with technological advancements and Sharjah is now on Metaverse with all its experiences. You can also now make bookings on Metaverse. We have added a lot of new attractions for tourists to explore which are quite appealing.
The infrastructure is getting developed at a first pace and we are improving the road connectivity as well. The Sharjah International Airport is now in the stage of expansion. It earlier had a capacity of holding 12 million passengers but by the end of 2024, we aim at increasing the capacity to 20-25 million passengers. It will also have separate terminals for arrivals and departures.
The Research and Innovation Park is one such attraction. The Monorail work is underway and it becoming a zero-emission high-speed public transport. We have also ventured into 3D manufacturing of various equipment and machinery like shipping for example. The aim is the 3D manufacture of such equipment at a low cost and high speed. Such 3D buildings are also part of the development plan and work is underway for the same. Sharjah also has the biggest University in the Middle East. It is the perfect combination of education, innovation and research.
What about Sharjah as a MICE and wedding destination?
At present we do not have that kind of infrastructure to hold such large events but we are expanding our convention centres. The Al Jawaher Convention Centre is a great venue to hold social and cultural activities. We do host many Indian weddings and it is a preferred wedding destination as the prices are low and there is no tax. There are several luxurious five-star properties like Marriott, Hilton etc. for the same but we do not serve alcohol in the UAE. The Government has to put up a plan for Sharjah to become a large-scale MICE destination.
Is Dubai competing with Sharjah as a tourist destination?
We do not compete with each other. We complement each other. A lot of tourists travelling to Dubai also visit Sharjah for a couple of nights and vice versa. We have also collaborated with Emirates so it is the combination of our synergies that has helped us grow.
Any plans for attracting people visiting Qatar for the World Cup?
Yes. We have daily flights between Sharjah and Doha. Also, Doha is not having enough hotels to accommodate so many visitors so we are looking forward to providing them with accommodations given the fact that we have many hotel rooms since it is barely 40 minutes away.
What is your message for Indian travellers?
Welcome to Sharjah and experience something new and different. Eco-tourism adventure is worth exploring.
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