Since the early days of trading between the East and the West, Sharjah has always been well positioned historically, geographically and commercially as a regional centre of development.
With the discovery of oil and later gas, Sharjah rapidly developed from a small trading town relying on fishing and pearl diving to one of the most modern, dynamic and commercial trading centres, as well as one of the leading tourist destinations in the Arabian Gulf.
Sharjah was also the first place in the region to develop tourism, dating back to 1932 when international flights were operated out of Sharjah’s now historic airport. The Emirate has experienced a tremendous growth in tourist numbers in the last 5 years with 1,900 new rooms in 2009 raising the total number of rooms available recorded in August 2009 to 8,523, a 14% increase compared to the same period in 2008. The hotel occupancy reached 70% in 2009.
Uniquely located on world trade routes and the only Emirate with direct access to both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the development of ports on both coasts has largely contributed to the growth of Sharjah as a trading cum cargo hub and a commercial maritime centre.
Sharjah International Airport is situated ten minutes away from the centre of the city and has recently undergone a major expansion to keep pace with the increasing number of passengers and growing cargo business.
In 2003, Air Arabia was ranked the first low-cost airline to be launched in the Middle East and North Africa region and now flies to over 60 destinations. In early 2009 Air Arabia Maroc began operations from Casablanca airport providing services domestically in Morocco and throughout Europe.
In addition to the two highly successful free zones, Sharjah International Airport Free Zone and Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah continues to work hard to build on its economic strengths and to develop new ones. Industry is at the heart of the Emirate’s economy and several industrial zones have been developed in specific locations.
Since 1995, over 8,000 new companies have opened in the two free zones and they continue to grow. In the last five years, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Sharjah has increased by about 11% annually. The increasing number of exhibitions held at Expo Centre has helped considerably to promote Sharjah as a destination for its business and commerce, tourism, education and cultural attributes.