Yemen gives nod to tourism

While neighbouring Gulf countries talk of tourism cooperation, joint visa regulations and large-scale tourism infrastructure throughout the region, the land of the Queen of Sheba has found itself tarnished by the terrorist and kidnapping brush. However, all that could be about to change.

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By  John Irish Published  September 15, 2003

Like an ageing footballer heading for Qatar, Yemen is plotting its appearance on the tourist trail after a two-day national conference analysing the country's tourism infrastructure opened today September 15.

The agenda will focus on restoring confidence in the country's hospitality sector by looking at administrative, security and travel issues, while also establishing the best method to promote and market the land of the Queen of Sheba in the coming months.

While neighbouring Gulf countries have looked at greater cooperation amongst themselves to develop the regional tourism infrastructure including the possibility of a unified visa policy, Yemen has found it tough going due to its status in the global media.

Over the last six years, the southern most Arabian state has seen its tourism figures drop drastically, following a number of high profile kidnappings ending in the death of four foreigners in Abyan in 1998 and a growing reputation for harbouring suspected terrorist organisations.

However, speaking to the London-based Al Hayat newspaper Khaled Al Roweishan, Yemen's minister for tourism and culture said that he expected the state to enter a new phase in the coming years citing a rise in inbound tourism from the Arab World and the Arabian Peninsula as a positive sign.

According to the most recent available government figures the number of visitors to Yemen in 2001 exceeded 75,500, spending a total of US $38 million, an increase of 4% on 2000. Of that number 45.9% came from the Middle East while 35.6% made the trip from Europe. 19% of the total number of visitors came from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, after recovering tentatively from the negative press emanating from kidnappings, the US' war on terror, followed by the conflict in Iraq appears to have made the task of attracting tourists more complicated.

"In the last year it has been very difficult, but we are seeing an increase in the business segment mainly for Sanaa and Taz," says Salah M Farajat, sales and marketing director, ACCOR Hotels, Yemen.

"Occupancy rates at the Sofitel Sanaa for the year so far are at 70%, while the average occupancy in the city is about 55%," he adds.

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