Call of culture...

Shopping and beaches ... two of the attractions for tourists in Sharjah.

The current global downturn in international travel has had little impact on Sharjah which relies largely on local and regional visitors, says the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.

The authority, which is the official body responsible for promotion of commerce and tourism in the emirate, also said tourism to the emirate has been growing steadily over the years.

While the September 11 attacks in the US had a tremendous effect on tourism and related industries all over the world, in Sharjah, the case was different, said Amal Noor Eldin of the authority.

"This is mainly due to the fact that Sharjah is located in a relatively safe region and that we mainly focus on attracting local and regional markets which was not as affected by the incident as the international market," she said.

"In fact the incident occurred during our preparations for the International F1 Powerboat Grand Prix. The event itself was only a month after the incident and we still managed to host it successfully."

Sharjah offers tourists round the year sunshine, beautiful beaches, a wealth of marine life, friendly people, a safety environment and a variety of facilities, attractions and entertainment developed by the government.

Although the emirate is a neighbour of regional tourism giant Dubai, the Sharjah tourism authority says the two emirates, and other members of the UAE, complement each other.

"Tourism in the UAE should be considered as a whole. Although a national tourism authority is not yet in place, all tourism authorities in the UAE are directly or indirectly working towards one goal," said the authority.

"Each emirate focuses on various types of tourism and promotes itself differently, but in the end we all complement each other.

"For instance, Dubai's efforts and its approach in promoting tourism is totally different to the neighbouring emirates.

"In Sharjah the focus is on culture, heritage and education, and accordingly we promote the emirate differently and attract different type of visitors.

"However, tourists to any of the emirate end up visiting the rest during their stay, in fact many tours and excursions in Dubai contain a day in Sharjah and the other emirates and vice versa."

In Sharjah, the authority said it worked on three levels to promote tourism - local, regional and international.

At the local level, the authority mainly focused on promoting tourism providers as well as places of interest through advertising and promotional activities.

It participates in regional and international exhibitions, supports promotional activities along with tourism providers and government departments and hosts international events such as the powerboat grand prix to create awareness overseas.

The emirate offers many cultural and edutainment attractions including 14 museums, children edutainment centres, a wildlife centre (the only one of its kind in the region) and a variety of colleges and training institutes at the Sharjah University City.

Several new recent projects are adding to the emirate's attraction as a tourist destination. These include the redesigning of the Corniche area, four new shopping malls, proposed expansion of the emirate's airport and a plan to set up a national airline.