Sharjah: A family tourism destination
Sharjah - Sharjah has promoted itself as an ideal tourist destination for families, especially from the Arab region, with an emphasis on a family-friendly atmosphere combined with excellent tourism facilities and events.
Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), in association with Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority), is the driving force behind the transformation of the laid-back emirate neighbouring vibrant Dubai.
“In fact, family tourism is a key pillar of the Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021, launched by the SCTDA, which aims to attract more than 10 million visitors within the next five years,” SCTDA Chairman Khalid Jasim al-Midfa said.
Guided by traditions, the emirate launched its Sharjah My Family Destination campaign during this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, introducing attractive offers and packages on hotels and leisure destinations for families visiting the emirate.
“For instance, families can get up to 16-20% discount rate on hotel accommodations,” said Midfa, noting that the emirate’s development plans are focused on enhancing facilities and services for families.
With more than a dozen museums covering art, calligraphy, Islamic civilisation, natural history, heritage, science and classic cars and aviation, there is plenty of choice for families.
The Wasit Nature Reserve, a wetland that opened recently, offers educational and cultural classes and facilities such as observation platforms. The Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre provides unique opportunities for children and adults to learn about environment preservation and understand nature in a fun-filled manner.
Al Noor Island, spanning 45,470 sq. metres, combines nature, art and entertainment. One of its features is the Butterfly House, a nature-inspired structure with an ornamentally perforated shadow roof and biomorphic exterior that houses as many as 500 exotic butterflies native to a variety of countries.
Other landmarks of the emirate are Al Majaz Waterfront with its spacious green landscapes and restaurants and the Heart of Sharjah, a commercial and cultural hub with restaurants, retail shops, art galleries, traditional and contemporary markets, archaeological sites and museums.
“What makes Sharjah particularly attractive is that it offers an authentic Arab atmosphere complemented by sophisticated infrastructure and modern facilities, making it one of the most favoured family destinations. Families visiting the emirate find it easy to supplement their time on the beach with other activities, such as cultural and sporting events as well as shopping and recreation,” Midfa argued.
According to SCTDA, family tourism represents 12.5% of the global tourism market, recording a total value of $1.7 trillion in 2012.
“We are also focused on driving up investment and further development in tourism attractions that not only enhance the emirate’s economy but also the overall tourist experience,” added Midfa.
Sharjah receives approximately 2 million hotel guests annually, the majority of them from Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India and Russia.
Visitors from Arab countries account for nearly one-third of Sharjah’s hospitality guests, and hotels in the emirate report 100% occupancy when schools in the Gulf countries close for vacation. Oman was Sharjah’s top source market in 2015, accounting for 12% of the visitors. Those from Saudi Arabia accounted for 11% of the total guests.
In 2015, the emirate received nearly 300,000 exhibition visitors, 750,000 museum visitors and 250,000 tourists at activities and events, most of them families. It also attracted 75,305 cruise passengers.
Pointing to these positive growth figures, the SCTDA official said he was optimistic that the emirate was on track to achieve its 2021 strategy projections.
To meet the requirements of increasing demands, Sharjah has 106 accommodation facilities, including 50 hotels and 56 hotel apartments, offering a total of 10,000 rooms. It has 55 parks and 16 museums that cater to the interests of families.
According to Midfa, the launch of the Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021 “aimed at unifying all the efforts and initiatives as well as future programmes of Sharjah’s tourism sector under one umbrella”.
The role of Shurooq, the independent government entity as the driving force behind the transformation of Sharjah, has been crucial with a series of infrastructural projects implemented over five years — enhancing the emirate’s appeal as an investment, tourism and business destination, according to a spokesman for the agency.
He said the department “has capitalised on the advantage of Sharjah being a family-friendly environment for both tourists as well as residents and began developing multiple projects to ensure the longevity of this feature”.
“We continue to explore multiple initiatives to contribute to Sharjah’s family-friendly identity and are partnering with multiple government entities to physically introduce these features onto our destinations,” he said. “Our role is to utilise all our resources in order to progressively incorporate features, facilities and services that position Sharjah as a leading destination for the global family-tourism sector.”
Shurooq lists key tourism-related projects such as Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Montazah Amusement and Waterpark, Al Noor Island and Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project as some of its family-based attractions.