A key element of tourism development efforts in Sharjah is the growth of both heritage and ecotourism, which together form the strategic focus of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) in 2017. To this end, the authorities are investing in a wide range of heritage, archaeological and nature and ecotourism projects across the emirate.
Prominent among local efforts to develop heritage tourism is the Heart of Sharjah initiative, a five-phase heritage project to restore some of the older parts of Sharjah city to their condition as of the mid-20th century through the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones in the style of the city’s traditional architecture, while simultaneously developing new amenities in the area including a hotel, food and beverage facilities and a visitor centre. Work on the first phase of the initiative, which claims to be the largest heritage project in the Gulf region and for which the authorities have applied for UNESCO World Heritage site status, is under way, and all five are scheduled to be completed by 2025.
A key element of the initiative is the construction of a 54-room five-star hotel, the Al Bait Hotel, inside the Heart of Sharjah area. The facility, managed by GHM Group, is being built at a cost of Dh100m ($27.2m). Construction of the hotel is due to finish in the second half of 2017. As of November 2016, 50% of work on the facility had been completed, according to the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq). Ahmed ElGharib, hotel manager at the Hilton Sharjah, told OBG that more such traditionally-styled facilities were needed, saying that they were very popular with visitors from GCC markets in particular.
The emirate is also developing a mixed heritage and archaeology and nature tourism project at the Mleiha archaeological site – located in one of the emirate’s nine protected areas and containing ancient tombs and other ruins – at a cost of Dh250m ($68.1m). The first phase of the project, which includes a visitor centre displaying archaeological discoveries from the area and related educational materials, as well as infrastructure for outdoor activities such as hiking tours and quad-biking, was opened in January 2016. The second phase will see the rolling out of a 450-sq-km desert park in conjunction with the emirate’s Environment and Protected Areas Authority that will be home to native species of fauna, including gazelles, oryx and mountain deer, as well as the construction of an observatory, in conjunction with the Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space.
Another key focus area is nature and ecotourism. This segment benefits from nine protected areas covering 4.6% of the emirate’s land area. More such areas are in the pipeline, with plans for visitor facilities at each of them. Recently launched nature and ecotourism facilities include the Wasit Wetland Centre, located within the Wasit Nature Reserve, which was inaugurated in November 2015. The reserve contains 198 different species of birds.
Meanwhile, the Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre wildlife reserve near Kelba was opened in March 2016 and is home to 30 species of animals. The emirate also saw the opening in December of 2016 of a Butterfly House on Al Noor Island in the Khalid Lagoon in Sharjah city. The 800-sq-metre facility is home to 12 species of butterfly. The wider island is being developed by Shurooq at a cost of Dh80m ($21.8m).
Prominent among ecotourism and nature tourism projects in the pipeline is a project in a mangrove forest area of the Kalba region of the emirate, which is due to be completed in 2018. The project, which is based around the development of a former picnic area that was subsequently closed for conservation purposes, will include an aquarium as well as tours of the mangroves. Another project in the works is a geological park at Al Madam, while plans for another ecotourism site at Al Dhaid, the exact nature of which has yet to be decided, are currently in the design stage.
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