Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa speaks to Tatiana Tsierkezou about Sharjah’s charm, while simultaneously touching on the emirate’s tourism evolution and action plan for the rest of the year.
TTG: How does Sharjah stand out from the UAE’s other emirates? What is so unique about it and what can travellers look forward to when visiting?
The extraordinary focus placed on preserving and promoting the finest aspects of the UAE’s heritage and culture is what makes Sharjah unique. While the emirate does not dazzle with glitz, it houses and promotes authentic history and culture, which explains why UNESCO declared it Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1998. The status was once again reaffirmed in 2014, when it became Capital of Islamic Culture. The historic old town’s heritage and art areas, including the souqs and excellent museums, offer a glimpse of authentic Arab culture, much to the delight of tourists.
Apart from the main city of Sharjah, the enclaves of Dibba Al Hisn, Khor Fakkan and Kalba on the east coast also belong to the emirate.
Sharjah won the prestigious title of the Islamic Culture Capital for 2014, which underscores the emirate’s strong reputation as a cultural and knowledge hub. The recognition also highlights Sharjah’s continuous efforts in terms of cultural development, in line with the vision of Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. In addition, the emirate carries a long and rich tradition of hosting some of the most important art and cultural events in the world. Staying true to its reputation as a leader that upholds true Islamic identity through an array of initiatives, art and cultural programmes, the emirate ensures preservation of Islamic expressions, on both local and global levels.
The gateway to a treasure house of learning, art and craftsmanship, the emirate of Sharjah preserves and promotes the magnificent aspects of Arabic lifestyle and Islamic art through its museums, traditional souqs, heritage sites and mosques.
Reflecting its commitment to art, culture and preservation of the local heritage, the emirate offers visitors a chance to explore and experience the secrets of a unique Arabian lifestyle and Islamic culture. An impressive array of over 20 museums and several art galleries and beautifully restored heritage areas echoes this.
In recognition of its outstanding focus on supporting the publishing industry and encouraging the culture of reading in the Arab region, Sharjah has also been named the ‘World Book Capital 2019’ and is currently only the third country in the Arab world and the MEA region to receive this honour.
The Heart of Sharjah is another unique project that successfully encapsulates Sharjah’s life, history and heartbeat. The venture is the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region, set to be completed over a 15-year period, by 2025.
TTG: How has Sharjah’s tourism industry evolved over the last year and what has changed?
Sharjah tourism industry’s growth, marked by the influx of 1.7 million guests to the emirate over the last year, was further complemented by the launch of several key initiatives that contributed greatly to the development of the local tourism and hospitality sectors.
A remarkable growth in the hotel occupancy rate was observed in 2017, with the emirate’s tourism sector contributing more than $1.03 billion to the emirate’s annual GDP of $23.1 billion, accounting for 3.7 per cent of the total value of the emirate. The growth also complements the emirate’s comprehensive and ambitious socio-economic development goals.
TTG: What is SCTDA’s plan of action for the rest of 2018?
We have got an array of activities and events planned for the rest of 2018, which include the Sharjah International Book Fair, the Sharjah World Championship Week (comprising the UIM Formula 1 Power Boat Championship and the Sharjah Aquabike World Championship), plus the premier international photography festival of the Middle East – Xposure and the Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF).
The Sharjah International Book Fair is a 10-day annual event, held every November. Launched in 1982 under the continued guidance and patronage of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the event has made its mark as the third largest book fair in the world.
The Sharjah World Championship Week, organised every December in Khalid Lagoon, features the much anticipated UIM Formula 1 Power Boat Championship, one of the high-profile events. The world’s top powerboat racers battle it out in the final series of the world championship, giving rise to one of the most exciting water sporting events in the region.
Meanwhile, the Sharjah Aqua Bike World Championship makes for an unforgettable show of skills and bravado, featuring 60 international riders from 20 countries, to showcase the very best in jet skiing. In addition, the event offers other fun and entertainment activities for families.
Xposure is an annual feature in the calendar offering, apart from a permanent gallery, exhibitions, workshops, competitions and a trade show, which attracts professional photographers, photography enthusiasts, filmmakers, students and educators. Highly acclaimed international photographers, professional institutions and galleries representing work from photographers from around the world contribute to Xposure, Sharjah.
SICFF takes place in October and plays an essential role in bringing international films and new media content for youth and children in the region, exposing them to world cultures and promoting peace, tolerance and global understanding of how people from different cultures, religions and backgrounds live together.