TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What makes Sharjah's cultural aspect a great tourism offering for visitors?
AL MIDFA: As a leader that upholds Islamic identity through cultural and art forms, the emirate plays a key role in ensuring the continuity of Arab heritage expressions across the world. There are over 22 award-winning museums in the emirate, plus some of the most outstanding heritage architecture to be seen anywhere. Furthermore, the emirate, which was crowned Islamic Culture Capital of 1998 and Capital of Arab Tourism for 2014, is considered the gateway to Islamic heritage - a treasure house of learning, art, and craftsmanship. Sharjah has recently been named World Book Capital for 2019 by UNESCO, a fitting tribute as the emirate has undertaken an innovative range of efforts to make reading available to as many people as possible in the pursuit of a more unified society."
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are your main recommendations to visitors who want to discover Sharjah's culture?
AL MIDFA: The Heart of Sharjah is the region's largest restoration project. Visitors to Sharjah should not miss the Sharjah Art Museum's massive traditional barjeel (wind towers), Sharjah Art Foundation and the arts area. Over five thousand rare Islamic artefacts, are on view at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, detailing the growth of Islam through the ages in exquisite and educational displays. The region's ancient Bedouin culture is imaginatively displayed at Mleiha Archeological Centre and a must visit for those looking for a real insight into the emirate's original settlers. Only discovered during the last 40 years, Mleiha's treasures have been stirring the world of archaeology ever since – with preserved tombs and evidence of human presence as far back as 130,000 years.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: How does Sharjah's festival portfolio contribute to the emirate's tourism success?
AL MIDFA: Sharjah Light Festival invites renowned global artists to celebrate science, creativity, and heritage in a display of lights, colours and music at our beloved landmarks. Next is UIM F1H2O World Championship, a week powerboat racing, the ultimate adrenaline rush and regarded as one the most spectacular and dangerous sports in the world. Sharjah International Show Jumping Championship; Sharjah International Arabian Horse Festival; and Sharjah Heritage Festival, are held to coincide with World Heritage Day every year. Also there is Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial and Sharjah International Book Fair, which last year attracted a record breaking 2.38 million visitors over its 11-day run. The annual Islamic Arts Festival, for 20 years has brought Islamic art, classic and contemporary, to the fore with exhibitions, workshops and lectures taking place at venues all over Sharjah. Sharjah Hospitality Forum is now in its fourth successful year; Aquabike World Championship Week, which has grown highly popular since its launch three years ago; and Sharjah Summer Festival, a new addition for 2018, offers weeks of fun and entertainment.
TRAVEL TRADE WEEKLY: What are your future plans to attract more tourists to experience Sharjah's cultural offerings?
AL MIDFA: We will continuously build our tourism around attractive beaches, museums, wildlife, public parks, and a host of Arabic attractions such as Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba, Mleiha Archaeological Centre, and Al Noor Mosque. As more travellers are searching for unusual and experiential travel experiences, we are intensifying our focus on developing and promoting Sharjah's unique outdoor and adventure attractions. As part of our strategy, we are also looking to target an ever-wider range of markets and diversifying our range, at present considering intensifying our presence with Europe and Asia with a special focus on the UK, Germany, Malaysia and Indonesia – countries where we believe Sharjah's unique tourism product of authentic Arab culture, enticing outdoors and Islamic heritage will prove popular.