Event’s first virtual edition discusses opportunities and challenges during COVID-19 era
Seventh edition of Sharjah Hospitality Forum highlights new and innovative solutions to accelerate tourism recovery
• Confidence in future of local tourism sector growing in light of UAE’s fast response in combating COVID-19
• Rising need to develop and update current tourism strategies to meet new reality
• High turnout of international and local participants recorded
Under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Chairman of Sharjah Executive Council, the Sharjah Hospitality Forum 2020 (SHF 2020) today (Monday, November 16, 2020) discussed the best and fastest recovery path for the emirate’s tourism sector with the participants proposing innovative solutions to support the stakeholders of the tourism, hospitality and travel industries and sustain their gradual return to growth and normalcy. Organized by the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), the seventh edition of SHF, held virtually for the first time due to COVID-19, highlighted the emerging tourism, hospitality and travel challenges and opportunities in a post-pandemic era. The event also showcased the most successful tourism projects and the latest innovations that are driving tourism recovery.
High-profile speakers from the government and private sectors, experts, decision-makers, tourism and economic stakeholders, and representatives of local authorities and international organizations took part in the forum. The attendees included Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Sultan Al Qassimi, Director General, Department of eGovernment, Government of Sharjah; H.E. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of SCTDA; honor guest and speaker H.E. Abdulla Al Saleh Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy for Foreign Trade & Industry, and Natalia Bayona, Director of the Innovation, Digital Transformation and Investments Department, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); and Tiffany Misrahi, Vice President of Policy, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
Other speakers included international experts and executives such as Basmah Al-Mayman, Middle East Regional Director, UNWTO; Shalini Rajan, Head of Sales and Cargo, Air Arabia; Kashif Khalid, Regional Director – Africa & Middle East, International Air Transport Association (IATA); Fadel Ozmen, General Manager, Antics Tours Tourism; Hafeez Azzim, Regional Manager – Commercial Operations in the GCC, Middle East & Central Asia, Emirates; Shafiq Alaeddin, General Manager of Sharjah Group, Misk; Ahmed Obaid Al Tunaiji, Manager – Tourism Standards Department, SCTDA; and Majed Al Suwaidi, Director of the Manager of Overseas Promotions Department, SCTDA.
The forum’s series of virtual dialogue sessions highlighted the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global tourism and travel sector, as well as the future growth prospects for airline and travel companies amid exceptional challenges today. Practical solutions were posited by attendees to accelerate recovery, while putting forward short and long-term opportunities and the importance of deploying innovative platforms, including smart and remote-work tools, allowing for successful adapting to the new reality.
The first session titled ‘Domestic Tourism in Light of the Current Challenges’ was moderated by Dr. Mariam Taha, while the second session headed by Dr. Mohit Vij was titled ‘The future of airlines, travel and tourism industry- Costs and Benefits.’ During the third session, Dr. Amal Ali led the discussions on the rapid digital transformation of the tourism sector and the remote-work set-up within the sector as a result of the pandemic. The fourth and final session titled ‘International Protocols for Infectious Diseases, pandemic and crise management’ was moderated by Ajay Bhojwani, Regional Director General of MCI.
The forum also shed light on the UAE’s COVID-19 response and strategies as the country was included in the top 10 countries in the world for coronavirus treatment. The participants expressed confidence in the country’s future growth prospects, citing the significant initiatives and economic stimulus packages launched by the UAE’s wise leadership to bring back vibrancy to the tourism and hospitality sectors while following precautionary measures. Visibly prompt government actions have enhanced confidence in the UAE as one of the world’s safest tourism, hospitality and entertainment destinations.
The discussions also addressed the international protocols for contagious diseases, epidemics and crises, as well as their impact on the future of tourism as a major global economic sector. In addition, the participants exchanged insights and best practices to support tourism recovery in the coming era.
H. E. Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Sultan Al-Qassimi, Director General of Sharjah Department of eGovernment, said: “Tourism is among the hardest-hit sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that has deeply challenged all segments of society, especially the healthcare, social, and economic sectors. However, despite its negative impact, the pandemic has spurred the growth of digital transformation. In this respect, the UAE has demonstrated its readiness and ability to ensure business continuity in vital sectors, including travel, tourism, and hospitality, capitalizing on the country’s advanced technological infrastructure. In line with the directives of H. H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, Member of the Federal Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, we remain committed to provide top-notch technical services to all Sharjah’s governmental entities, using world-class platforms, while ensuring compliance with the highest standards of cybersecurity and personal privacy. We are confident that the ongoing global crisis will eventually come to an end, and the tourism sector will restore its vibrancy and growth, supported by integrated digital solutions designed to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for tourists and visitors alike.”
“Sharjah Hospitality Forum is being held at a time when there is a growing need for mobilizing and fostering national and international efforts to launch effective initiatives that would expedite the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sectors. These sectors are among the pillars of sustainable global economic development. We see major tourism opportunities, but we need to adopt new mechanisms and innovative methods not only to seize available opportunities but also to efficiently address emerging challenges and sustain the industry’s attractiveness and competitiveness,” said H.E Al Midfa.
Al Midfa added: “The world continues to bounce back from the pandemic’s impact. We are fully ready to implement successful solutions and creative projects to ensure tourism’s steady and fast recovery, with emphasis on several factors such as air traffic, travel regulations and visa procedures, country entry and exit traffic, and applicable safety protocols, among others. For our part, we have adopted a strategy that relies on three themes. The first one revolves around service development and safe domestic tourism promotion to encourage citizens and residents to rediscover Sharjah and the UAE. We have also introduced the Safety Stamp to ensure the compliance of the tourism and hospitality industries with the highest health practices, as well as the Safe Travel certificate for international safety, health and hygiene in travel and tourism. We have put in place other safety and protective measures and standards to provide integrated tourism experiences in a healthy and safe environment. As for the second theme, it focuses on targeting new markets after air traffic returns to normal and when the global markets fully open. The third theme includes the adoption of effective measures under the ‘new normal’ to ensure the recovery of the tourism community and bring the sector back to its pre-pandemic status.”
Al Midfa concluded: “We are optimistic about the future of tourism as we continue to develop proactive strategies and creative solutions in line with the requirements of the current era. In this regard, we are confident that Sharjah’s tourism will soon return to its growth path, driven by the unwavering government support, continuous infrastructural developments and current projects and initiatives that have retained momentum despite the global health crisis. All these are positive growth indicators. We are also pleased to host leading local and international experts during the virtual forum, which threw the spotlight on all current and future challenges facing tourism and explored practical solutions for the benefit of workers and investors alike.”
Recently, SCTDA launched a package of initiatives to support Sharjah’s tourism sector. The Authority has primarily focused on expanding its partnerships with stakeholders from the government and private sectors, including local and international entities, to ensure a safe tourism experience, enhance trust between destinations and visitors, and guarantee adherence to the best international standards and practices to maintain the health and safety of visitors, citizens and residents. Sharjah continues to promote the attractiveness and competitiveness of its tourism sector, highlighting the industry’s exceptional advantages and numerous cultural, heritage and historic attractions and features.