Interview: Khalid Jassim Al Midfa
Which investments in Sharjah’s tourism sector are expected to drive growth?
KHALID JASSIM AL MIDFA: Investments in connectivity and infrastructure are invaluable to driving growth, so Sharjah has undertaken several large-scale projects to add value and promote local tourism, starting with the Dh1.5bn ($408.3m) expansion of Sharjah International Airport to increase annual capacity to 20m passengers by 2027.
Completion of the Dh5.5bn ($1.5bn) Sharjah-Khorfakkan Road and the Dh1bn ($272.2m) Sharjah-Kalba Road has also created significant investment and tourism opportunities in the emirate, as the east coast can now be accessed in 45 minutes. A number of tourist and entertainment attractions have been developed in the area, such as Al Rafisa Dam and Khorfakkan beach, while the city’s ancient fortress and defence towers have been restored. These developments also align with strategies to create new business opportunities and more private sector jobs. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah, has announced further developments, including the Rawaq Kalba Corniche, a sports science academy and a new shopping mall.
The emirate aims to accommodate high visitor numbers following the pandemic by expanding hotel capacity. Developments designed to attract and cater to tourists include two five-star hotels at scenic locations in Sharjah’s eastern region: along Khorfakkan beach, which will also include the city’s first waterpark, and at Luluyah beach, located north of Khorfakkan beach.
What kind of technological advancements are disrupting the tourism industry?
AL MIDFA: The tourism industry is currently in one of its most dynamic periods, with technological advancements not only facilitating and improving daily operations, but revolutionising the sector. The travel industry is ideally placed to benefit from technological advancements such as e-documentation and recognition software. With their many applications, these tools are ushering in a new age of seamless authentication – like facial recognition and iris scans for airport security – contact-less payments, and considerably streamlined processes for flight and hotel check-ins, applications for passports and visas, and so on.
A personalised experience for each visitor is now possible with the help of internet-of-things (IoT) technology. Hotels can customise all aspects of a stay to deliver hyper-personalised accommodation with the “connected room” concept. Combined with data and location-based information, countless opportunities arise for contact-less services and the personalised, interactive delivery of information. IoT, automation and real-time data analysis can also help hotels identify problems early and even prevent some from occurring.
Moreover, big data is used to make highly accurate predictions of the amount of business that a hotel, restaurant or other establishment can expect over a period of time, enabling them to make better business plans.
Where does the emirate see further development opportunities for tourism?
AL MIDFA: Sharjah is a key regional destination for family and cultural tourism, attracting visitors from the Gulf, Europe and Asia in particular. The industry is also a substantial contributor to the emirate’s economy, accounting for 8.8% of its GDP of Dh102.5bn ($27.9bn) in 2019. Tourism development and recovery is therefore a primary focus of the STCDA and wider leadership.
Construction activities in the emirate have resumed along with the gradual re-opening of businesses, and major projects are on track. In December 2020 we saw the opening of the House of Wisdom, an inclusive learning centre celebrating Sharjah’s status as the UNESCO World Book Capital of 2019, while the launch of Sharjah Sustainable City highlights our commitment to green investment. The emirate will also host a sprawling natural and wildlife reserve, which is expected to be home to around 50,000 species of African animals.
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