The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) announced that the emirate recorded a three per cent growth in the number of hotel guests in 2019 as compared to 2018. The sector welcomed nearly 1.8 million guests previous year with a hotel occupancy rate of 66 per cent. In terms of nationalities, guests from the Russian Federation topped the list, followed by GCC countries such as KSA and Oman, and then India.
Continuous tourism inflows
H.E Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, SCTDA, stated that the emirate witnessed strong inflows of tourists during previous year, thanks to the emirate’s major achievements in terms of the launch of new recreation amenities, tourism initiatives and associated activities. Al Midfa stated that Sharjah’s higher hotel occupancy rates can be associated to the victory of the initiatives and projects carried out in line with the vision of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to similarly improve the emirate’s role on the international tourism landscape.
Al Midfa mentioned that by the end of 2019, the emirate had more than 10,000 hotel rooms, comprising 1,331 rooms in 9 5-star hotels; 2,733 rooms in 21 4-star hotels; as well as 31 in one to three-star hotels; and 2,485 apartments in 40 hotel apartment facilities.
Furthermore, six new 5-star and 4-star hotels were started last year, and more than seven new hotel projects are predicted to be launched in 2020. This shows Sharjah’s growth as a must-visit destination for families, business travelers and those seeking exciting tourism and recreation activities, and highlights investor confidence in Sharjah’s flourishing tourism sector.
Contribution to the emirate’s GDP
Sharjah’s tourism sector is one of the major pillars of its economy, due to its ability to successfully make contributions to the creation of job opportunities, diversification of economic base and income sources. Tourism accounted for 8.8 percent or more than AED 9 billion of Sharjah’s total GDP of AED 102.5 billion as per the 2015 GDP data.
Tourism projects& initiatives
As part of its constant efforts to promote tourism, entice more tourists and visitors, and boost the emirate’s tourism competitiveness, SCTDA unveiled a package of innovative services previous year. These include the ‘Smart Mirror,’ an interactive platform that promotes Sharjah’s profile as a place of preference for tourists by enabling users to explore the emirate’s major landmarks and attractions; and the ‘AI Tour Guide Chatbot,’ a 24×7 voice and text-based chatbot developed to give the new information about Sharjah to tourists and answer their queries. Accessible through WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and available in five languages (Arabic, English, German, Chinese and Russian), the ‘AI Tour Guide Chatbot’ gives accurate information about the emirate’s top tourist locations, must-do recreation activities, world-class hotel amenities and leading restaurants.
Furthermore, the ‘Hotel Statistics System- Business Intelligence’ (HSS – BI) solution’ offers hotels with access to real-time guest information and statistics, which includes proper details, such as nationality, duration of stay and much more. The ‘Smart Vehicle Permit System’ service enables tourism agencies to finalize registration procedures, pay the fees and print-out permits within a few minutes. SCTDA has also introduced the ‘Smart Hotel Licensing and Classification’ system, which was created to automate business transactions and manage tourism standards--covering a wide spectrum of services which includes hotel establishment registration, online submission of all applications associated to licensing, inspection, violation management and facility classification. This service enables external visitors to register and customize their accounts and start using the services once approved.
Environmental projects and eco-tourism initiatives are also becoming more and more familiar in Sharjah, and this move is evident in tourism and hospitality sectors. Several premium environment-friendly tourism projects are being developed in the emirate with designs drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscapes, featuring state-of-the-art facilities and providing superior services in accordance to the highest global standards. The most notable projects in this regard are the Al Faya Retreat, positioned in the middle of the desert, boasting 5-star facilities and providing an exceptional tourism experience; Al Badayer Retreat, a luxury tourism development strategically positioned in the heart of Al Badayer desert; Kingfisher Retreat, a 5-star hospitality development offering unique stays in Kalba Mangrove Reserve; and Al Rafisah Dam Rest Area, a tourism attraction, surrounded by splendid nature and mountains.
Additionally, Sharjah is placing great emphasis on the development of adventure tourism. The UAE’s third largest emirate, with diversified terrain and nature spreading from the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman; is an ideal destination for adventure tourists, as it offers a wide range of thrilling activities that include sand skiing, 4-wheel driving, swimming, kayaking and camping, in addition to many more outdoor activities, to be enjoyed all through the year.
The emirate also currently witnessed the start of Buhais Geological Park, which aspects fossils and geological attractions and illustrates Sharjah’s evolution through different geological ages. The Park highlights the significance of Jabal Buhais and details about the formation of Sharjah dating back more than 125,000 years. The Al Dhaid Wildlife Center in Al Dhaid City, a center dedicated to exhibiting wildlife, was started in February 2019. Here, visitors can embark on interactive journeys to know more about desert life and explore to the beauty of the emirate’s endemic wildlife. In addition to screening short films about Sharjah’s heritage and archeological and ecological treasures, the center hosts interactive workshops and animated movies for children.
Promotional campaigns & tourism related activities
Through 2019, SCTDA carried out various promotional campaigns with the goal of attracting ever greater numbers of tourists and visitors to the emirate. In addition to the afore-mentioned campaigns, the Authority took part in several global exhibitions and conferences inside and outside the UAE, reaching out to the target audience and creating awareness of the unique and exceptional attributes of Sharjah as a year-round family-friendly destination.
Thanks to these efforts, SCTDA was able to launch into new markets including the Nordic Countries, through its participation at the MATKA Nordic Travel Fair and the promotional tour organized for the first time in Central Europe, aiming at three major markets in cooperation with Emirates airline. The promotional tours held in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest complement SCTDA’s efforts to achieve the Sharjah Tourism Vision that targets to attract more than 10 million tourists to the emirate by 2021.
In terms of recreational and tourism activities, SCTDA organized the famed Sharjah Light Festival in 2019, attracting over1.2 million visitors. The event served as an exceptional experience that spotlighted on Sharjah’s position as a destination with rich cultural diversity and world-class tourism capabilities. It also highlighted numerous aspects of its cultural diversity, rich heritage and other distinctive features. In addition, the Authority organized and hosted the Sharjah World Championship Week, which consists of the Formula 1 Powerboat World Championship and Aquabike World Championship with the participation of more than 70 contestants from 20 countries, who demonstrated their skills before thousands of water sports enthusiasts.
In view of these achievements, Al Midfa elaborated that Sharjah is now one of the most attractive world-class tourism place owing to the success of its tourism and recreational projects and leading annual sports and cultural events organized by the Authority. The availability of diverse tourism services such as nature reserves, beautiful golden sand beaches, archaeological heritage sites, scientific and cultural centers, modern infrastructure and outdoor activities also add important value to the emirate’s tourism and hospitality success. In addition, the focus on providing bundled offers, tourism and entertainment activities and adventure experiences that effectively cater to the needs of family audiences and various segments of visitors plays an integral role, he mentioned.
“Previous year was exceptionally successful for Sharjah tourism; the recorded turnout from international hotel operators was incredible. We were able to attract more numbers of visitors with our tourism-related initiatives, programs and plans that were particularly designed to reflect our belief in the ambitious vision of our wise leadership and support efforts in this direction. Lately, Sharjah has witnessed significant progress in the fields of infrastructure and roads and transport, as well as a considerable growth in the travel sector. The expansions in the areas of hospitality and tourism, increasingly diverse tourism destinations and the launch of new sustainable environmental projects are remarkable. Moving ahead, we are aiming to enhance tourism experiences and attractions to enrich our visitors’ experiences and provide them with exceptional services that will make them return to Sharjah. Great focus has also been placed on familiarizing audiences with our tourism activities, attractions and events in addition to highlighting adventure tourism and the new chain hotel brands by running promotional and advertising campaigns,” Al Midfa concluded.