Sharjah embarks on major ecotourism projects

Sunday 09/07/2017
New brand. A view of the Mleiha Desert Resort accommodations and swimming pool. (Courtesy of Shurooq)

Sharjah - After years of steadily lay­ing the foundations for cultural and family tour­ism, Sharjah has em­barked on several ambi­tious ecotourism projects aimed at reinforcing the sector, which has proved to be vital for its economy. The projects unveiled at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai emphasised the policy of boosting community development, sustainability and en­vironmental awareness while show­casing the emirate’s diversity. They offer a variety of accommodation options for visitors, combining the experience of a five-star hotel with the serenity of a traditional lodge.

Sharjah is rich with cultural sites and is a popular destination, es­pecially among tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The main policy had been to attract Arab families and to promote Sharjah’s cultural assets, by building up a portfolio of luxury ecotourism, the emirate is positioning itself for a new wave of tourism and different class of visitors, said Marwan bin Jassim al-Sarkal, CEO of Sharjah’s economic development agency Shurooq.

“Sharjah presently has a strong advantage in leading the authen­tic tourism and hospitality sector,” Sarkal said. “Shurooq has estab­lished a new world-class hospital­ity entity, which will introduce a plethora of brand new authentic and cultural experiences and facili­ties in the emirate and work towards attracting both unique investments and tourism experiences into this vital sector.”

The new projects mainly cater to visitors who desire luxury hospital­ity facilities in natural settings, he added.

Since 2009, Shurooq has been a strong force behind Sharjah’s bur­geoning tourism sector. As part of its strategy to promote the emirate as one of the region’s leading luxury and authentic tourist destinations, it has worked with multiple govern­ment entities and private players to build up the tourism infrastructure as well as attract investment into the sector.

Hotel revenues have been grow­ing 12% a year and they are expected to reach $227 million by the end of 2019, the latest government figures indicate.

Among the new projects is the five-star Mleiha Desert Resort in cen­tral Sharjah, connecting the emir­ate’s east and west coasts. It is at the heart of the Mleiha Archaeological and Ecotourism Project on natural landscape between the area’s dunes and the famous Fossil Rock.

The project, whose area encom­passes 300,000 sq.metres, is sched­uled for completion towards the end of 2019. It will have 45 exclusively designed vacation villas, modelled on classical desert marquees, each with its own deck and private swim­ming pool. The Royal Suite, which is one of four living options at the resort, encompasses 167 sq.metres and includes two uniquely designed rooms and a private swimming pool.

Additional options include the 155-sq.metre King Suite; Junior Suite, with a space of 90 sq.metres; and the Standard Suite, which of­fers a unique living covering 85 sq.metres. Guests are promised a full range of hotel services, restau­rants, cafés, a health club, a swim­ming pool and many other ameni­ties.

A new brand of hotels, the Sharjah Collection, with a focus on luxuri­ous lodge and B&B-style properties, constitutes the second major pro­ject. The hotels will be in Sharjah’s ecotourism and heritage sites, which are being developed by Shurooq.

Nestled within the Kalba Ecotour­ism Project will be the Kingfisher Lodge, a collection of tented lodge-style accommodations surrounded by mangroves and diverse ecologi­cal zones, allowing guests to live in an environmentally friendly way.

Kalba is an enclave of Sharjah on the east coast 5km south of Fujairah city on the Omani border and has beautiful mangroves that are home to the critically endangered Arabian collared kingfisher.

Another development, Al Badayer Lodge, is to be built against the back­drop of a prominent natural feature of the Arabian Peninsula, its sweep­ing deserts of Al Badayer Oasis in Sharjah. The property is planned to serve the tastes of adventure lovers. Guests will enjoy urban amenities amid authentic Bedouin surround­ings.

The final project in the first phase, the $27 million Al Bait Hotel, will include two five-star B&B villas in the Heart of Sharjah, the region’s largest historical preservation and restoration project. Converted from old Emirati homes, the boutique ho­tel, will be managed by Singapore’s GHM Hotels, and will open this year with 53 luxury suites aiming to pro­vide visitors unique insights into traditional UAE living.

The high-end ecotourism pro­jects, which are hoped to make the emirate a major player in the luxury eco-resort sector, are considered a strategic approach to elevate the standards of Sharjah’s hospitality sector.