Sharjah’s time to shine

Encouraged by growing MICE arrivals, Sharjah is now eager to show off its business event capabilities, especially to Asian planners.

Sharjah Lighting Festival Sunset

Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) is turning to business events from Asia to help it achieve its target of 10 million tourists by 2021.

To do that, SCTDA is stepping out of the shadows of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the two most popular business event destinations in the UAE, and is emphasising that Sharjah has what it takes to welcome and deliver quality events.

Sharjah Lighting Festival Sunset

“In terms of infrastructure and tourism products, Sharjah is well positioned to cater to international events,” said Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, chairman of SCTDA.

Bordering Al Khan Lagoon and covering 128,000m2, the visually-striking Expo Centre Sharjah is one of the most technologically advanced exhibition, conference and event venues in the Middle East. Recent events that took place at the venue include the 44th MidEast Watch and Jewellery Show, SteelFab 2018, International Education Show and Jordanian Consumer Show.

Expo Centre Sharjah recorded a seven per cent increase in the number of visitors during 1Q2017, with a total of 302,474 delegates who attended 12 exhibitions.

Sharjah hotels are doing well too, with an average occupancy rate of 70 per cent from January to June last year. The hotels welcomed 885,000 guests during the period. The performance has inspired Sharjah to look at adding 5,000 hotel rooms to its inventory by 2021.

“With the business events industry in the UAE expected to grow at a rate of seven per cent, Sharjah would benefit from its own share of business event arrivals, especially considering the tourism development taking place in the emirate,” commented Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group.

The hospitality company is opening three hotels in Sharjah – Address Aljada Sharjah, Vida Aljada Sharjah, and Rove Aljada Sharjah.

Besides new hotels, Sharjah is currently building the Al Tai Exhibition Centre and adding on new tourism products – for instance, a US$27.2 million attraction at the Al Montazah Amusement and Water Park by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, and the Sharjah Beach Development project, a 3.3km stretch that will feature art spaces, landscaped gardens and restaurants – that will appeal to corporate incentive groups.

As well, there are plans to connect the port city of Khor Fakkan through the Hajar Mountains with Sharjah’s central region.

Khalid Jasim opined that good growth will come out of “key Asian markets like India and China” and SCTDA has stepped up participation at business event-focused tradeshows in both markets. Last year, it exhibited at SATTE 2017 in New Delhi and China World Travel Market in Shanghai – both tradeshows are new to the authority. These efforts are supported by promotional campaigns and workshops in Chinese cities like Guangzhou and Chengdu.

He explained that SCTDA’s presence in China and India aims to “educate local stakeholders on our uniqueness as a business events destination”.

“We also see a great opportunity to increase Indian arrivals further by showcasing Sharjah as an incentive destination,” he said.

Jamal Abdulnazar, CEO, Cozmo Travel, sees two factors in favour of Sharjah as an attractive destination for Chinese and Indian groups. “The winter season here is a good time for Indian groups to visit, while the visa-free policy for Chinese nationals is very helpful,” he said.

Kulwant Singh, CEO of Lama Tours, believes that Sharjah can be positioned as “a new, standalone incentive destination” in the UAE for the Indian and Chinese markets but added that the destination needs more five-star hotels to truly attract the high-end incentive segment.
“Most of Sharjah hotels are three- and four-star properties,” he remarked.

Sharjah welcomed 138,000 hotel guests from India last year, a year-on-year growth of 32 per cent, while Chinese hotel guest numbers rose 45 per cent to 126,000.

While India and China are big on SCTDA’s radar, the authority is not discounting arrival potential from other parts of Asia. In fact, it has identified Malaysia and Indonesia as new sources for business events.

“We are looking at ways to reach out to Malaysian and Indonesian planners. At present we are attracting a small number of arrivals.

“These two markets have strong potential as there is a sizeable Muslim population. We will promote Sharjah by showcasing our rich Islamic culture, uniqueness of the destination and its offerings for business events,” said Khalid Jasim.

For now, SCTDA is collecting and understanding market intelligence on Malaysia and Indonesia, and will use data to form the basis of its promotion and marketing engagements.

It is also shortlisting major outbound travel agencies in Malaysia and Indonesia that it can work with closely to boost business event arrivals.

This article was first published on TTGmice August 2018


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