Middle East depending a lot on cultural tourism

Published on : Friday, May 5, 2017

Middle East cultural tourismAs per industry leaders at the Arabian Travel ¬Market in Dubai last week, tourists are seeking more meaningful travel experiences, leading to an increased demand in cultural tourism.

Through her company Wander with Nada, Nada Badran, one of the panellists at a discussion on the topic, offers walking tours around Dubai’s lesser-known sites. Badran believes that visitors want to soak in a destination’s environment and connect with the unfamiliar. To quote Nada, “People have grown tired of the typical cookie-cutter travel experiences. These limit interactions with local people to over-the-counter ticket moments. With the advent of globalisation, travellers have become more culturally curious. They are looking for more meaningful relationships and greater engagement.”

Arva Ahmed, another panellist and founder of Dubai-based Frying Pan Tourism, says, “The world is so connected now. People are writing about destinations we’d never previously heard of and tourists want to experience them. You also see TV personalities going to far-flung places and meeting locals. It’s all over Instagram – people see it and are swayed by it.”

Frying Pan Tourism offers culinary tours around Dubai emirate. Starting with two to three tours per week when it launched in 2013, the company now runs nearly three times that amount during peak winter season. Cultural tourism covers many different elements. For Badran, it doesn’t just mean museums and archaeological sites, but more-¬contemporary and less-tangible things, too. “It can cover food, festivals, dance and modern art,” she says. “In the UAE, it’s not just about the early pearl trade.”

Helping to meet the demand for cultural experiences, the US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) Dubai Opera opened last year. It stages major international shows and also hosts traditional Arab performers. Etihad Museum, which tells the story of the birth of the UAE, opened in January. This will be joined by the Museum of the Future this year and Mohammed bin Rashid Library in 2018.

One of Abu Dhabi’s most-visited cultural attractions is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where people can learn about Islam, while Saadiyat Island will be home to the Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National Museum by 2020.

Sharjah is also restoring its traditional heritage areas to display what life was like more than half a century ago. The Heart of ¬Sharjah development, off Corniche Street, is home to souqs, galleries and diverse museums. In Ras Al Khaimah, visitors can go on Bedouin camping tours and experience life as part of a desert tribe. They can also see camel racing, falconry and horse riding, which are still a key part of local life.

Revenue from cultural tourism can be reinvested in the restoration and expansion of sites, boosting the local economy and employment levels.

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