Sharjah is positioning itself as a safe, family-friendly option for holidaymakers, with a selection of attractions the authorities hope will make it stand out from the crowd.
There are also a host of high-profile cultural events taking place this year that are expected to see the emirate build its reputation as a compact seaside destination that offers a range of activities.
Gassan Aridi, managing director of Alpha Tours, told local media from the World Travel Market exposition held in London in November that Sharjah has performed particularly well among the UAE’s seven emirates. “Sharjah is mainly a family destination," said Aribi. "It has a lot of attractions for families, nice hotels, beaches as well as museums, cultural heritage, natural beauty and the zoo."
Some 1.1m tourists arrived in the emirate during the first nine months of 2010, a rise of 50,000 from the same period last year, while hotel occupancy rates rose by 6%, according to figures from the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) released in November. The upswing in visitors is expected to accelerate in the final quarter as the high season gets under way and festivals are launched.
The Sharjah water festival, which attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually, was launched in early December, with an array of water-themed shows and entertainment events. The event, which followed a popular lights festival in mid-November, will culminate in the Formula One Powerboat World Championship.
These festivals and other attractions were highlighted by the SCTDA at the tourism exhibition in London. “We continue to develop new ideas for events as part of our strategy to create a unique tourism identity for Sharjah, and to contribute to building a solid national economy in cooperation with the tourism and economic communities,” SCTDA Chairman Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qassimi said in November.
Perhaps the most easily recognisable attraction within the city is the Al Qasba art, culture and leisure area, and its trademark 60-metre-high, 42-gondola “Eye of the Emirates” ferris wheel. Keeping with the family-oriented theme, there are numerous children’s rides and activities on site in addition to 21 different restaurants. Al Qasba also houses the 300-seat Masrah Al Qasba Theatre, an interactive musical fountain, boat rides along the canal, an art gallery, as well as both a community and business centre.
Sharjah’s impressive array of museums also rank among the most-visited attractions in the city. A number of these are tucked away in the heritage and arts area, which offers tourists a look into the city’s past while still situated in the middle of the bustling city. Some of the attractions in the area include: the Bait Al Naboodah and Bait Khalid bin Ebrahim Al Yousef, traditional 19th-century homes; Al Hisn (Sharjah Fort), built in 1820; maritime heritage; Islamic art, ranging from classic to contemporary Arab calligraphy and ornamentation; and educational museums.
There are a number of other museums located outside the city centre, including the archaeology and science museum and learning centre, Al Mahatta museum of flight, and the natural history and botanical museums. Other cultural sites in proximity include the Al Hisn Fort Kalba and Al Ghail Fort.
For holidaymakers seeking bar and nightclub options, Sharjah is only a short journey from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and offers generally lower accommodation costs. There are also varied shopping venues and a desert and mountain interior that is seeing increased interest for adventure tourism.
Full-year statistics are expected to confirm continued growth in Sharjah’s tourism sector. While competition globally and regionally is on the rise, the emirate is carving out an impressive and growing niche position in the market.