INVESTING IN TOURISTS

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | TOURISM & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), on becoming a larger tourism destination and working with government bodies to maximize synergy.

HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa
BIOGRAPHY
HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa took over as the Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority in 2014. Al Midfa has served in senior administrative positions, including at the Sharjah International Airport and Sharjah Airport Free Zone. An alumnus of the International School of Choueifat and Al Ma’arifa Private School, he graduated from the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai.

What progress has Sharjah made in becoming more prominent?

Sharjah has become more prominent in its positioning, and investment in the Emirate has grown. Multinational hotels are opening up, which increases our profile on the global stage. Our events are becoming world famous; for example, the Sharjah Light Festival has been compared to Sydney's Vivid, the World Championship week has being streamed live globally, and our International Book Fair is now the third biggest in the world. We now plan to expand the MICE market and see another 7,000 key events coming online over next three years. We have kept our top source markets and added to them. The GCC continues to dominate the list of Sharjah's source regions for the tourism sector, sending 450,388 visitors to the Emirate in 2016, which amounts to 25% of the total number. Asian markets continued to grow throughout 2016, constituting a 9% increase from the 370,528 Asian visitors who came in 2015. Europe sent 348,570 visitors to the Emirate, 20% of all visitors to Sharjah in 2016. Non-GCC Arab countries came in fourth as a source region for Sharjah's tourism sector, with 262,027 tourists visiting the Emirate in 2016, 15% of the total number of visitors.

How will eco-tourism revolutionize the hospitality and tourism sector in Sharjah?

It is a real achievement to see a multi-government approach to environmental tourism, not only Shurooq but the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) as well are delivering a unique and exciting eco-tourism product. The EPAA's innovative breeding program has seen many indigenous species being reintroduced to the wild, including the Arabian collared kingfisher. The kingfisher is now a main feature of the Shurooq development in Kalba and lodges have been named after it. Sharjah tourism is supplementing the ecotourism message with a strong outdoor tourism positioning. Many desert activities are already held in Sharjah, and the Emirate offers a great deal of diversity from the east coast, perfect for driving to the mountains, wadis, and deserts so it is ideal for off-road driving and mountain biking. We also have archaeological and fossil hunting digs, salt flats on the west coast, and the breeding grounds for turtles in Sir Bu Nair. Many destinations have jumped at eco-tourism as a strategy for increasing tourism. Sharjah recognizes that while eco-tourism will add diversity to our product and increase the number of visitors, it is even more important for the role that it will play in preserving our natural assets for future generations to enjoy.

What opportunities do you envision from the Chinese market?

China is an excellent market as we are an ideal stopover for Chinese people because of the uniqueness of the Sharjah product. We target a 30% increase from last year and hope to see growth from this market annually. We see Chinese tourists wanting to learn and immerse themselves in the traditions and heritage found in other countries. Sharjah offers many opportunities for this sort of tourism with its unique heritage and culture tourism product. The easing of visas and the extensive network of flights makes China a natural market though it is just one of many countries that we are investing in as we diversify our customer portfolio. We have recently opened an office in India and we keep investing in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the GCC. Even while the China market grows, we believe in diversification.

To what extent does the authority collaborate with other government entities and how do you maximize synergy to achieve your respective goals?

As an authority, we work closely with all other entities to ensure that we project the same message. We often support them in their marketing. This year we actively supported all the major events in the Emirate from the International Showjumping Competition, the Heritage Festival, to the Sharjah Desert Sports, and the Sharjah Friendly City Campaign.