Yemen: developing ecotourism strategy

Yemen bottle tree

A LEADING in-bound tour operator in Yemen is Universal Touring Company (UTC), which has been has been working in Yemen since 1985.

Its founder Italian born Marco Livadiotti, now vice president tourism and marketing UTC, has been promoting Yemen since a child, and came to the country aged five. He has travelled the world talking about Yemen’s tourism attributes, and for about five months of every year participates in major worldwide exhibitions.

However, he did appreciate that Yemen was “going through a bad time now,” with not many tourists visiting, due to the recession and the security issues in the country.

“But at the same time things are fine. I find Yemen one of the most secure countries in the world. I have lived here for 45 years, and with the exception of the area in Saada in the north and the area around the desert and Mareb, the rest of the country is open to travellers and all is fine.”

“We do have some problems but tell me which country nowadays doesn’t,” he said, and that many people who do travel to Yemen are surprised at how secure is the country and how friendly are its people.

“Yemen is considered one of the best destinations in the Middle East, full of diversity and contrasts. It is the cultural destination of the Middle East and it need to be well supported,” he said.

The country still needed to improve its infrastructure, organisation and marketing, and also needed to promote itself in the Arab countries. “If I was an Arab I would first come to Yemen before any other country. Yemen is the roots, the beginning, the source of the Arab civilisation, and the cradle of a great one,” said Livadiotti.

UTC was particularly keen on promoting Yemen to Middle Eastern travellers during summer because of the fresh and mild weather it offered at this time. 

UTC is working in cooperation with Yemen Tourism Promotion Board and the Ministry of Tourism to create a new cultural destination of the region. Hotels coming up soon include some big four and five star hotel projects in Sanaa Hodeidah Mukalla.

In addition, Livadiotti, along with the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Environment where he is a consultant for both, is developing an ecotourism strategy and planning to establish eco camps on Socotra Island within the next two years.

“We are concentrating on attracting investors and at the same trying to have a real conservation policy for the heritage, which is considered to be one the richest in the world.”

Livadiotti is also managing director of UTC sister company Arabia Felix based in Dubai, opened two years ago mainly to promote combination tours between Yemen, Dubai, UAE and Oman.

“We try to convince travellers to extend their journey to Yemen or Oman once they are in Dubai. I see Yemen like a perfect combination with Dubai - new and old, past and future, from the skyscrapers of Dubai to the skyscrapers of Sanaa,” he said.

“Borders are open now you can leave from Dubai and go to Sanaa in few days, driving all the way through Oman. It’s a great journey.”

Asked how business was faring this year, Livadiotti said, “The Dubai office has got good results but there is still a long long way to go. Most interest comes from transit tourists, very little from locals or expatriates living there,” he said.

He said this was “a matter of education”, and that those who live in Dubai tended to prefer to go to the Maldives or Seychelles rather than to Yemen.

“UTC is attentive to Yemen’s cultural heritage and architectural preservation and for many years has been dealing with worldwide organisations like UNESCO, Aga Khan and World Monuments to create awareness on this issue and in all types of conservation and environmental programmes.

By Cheryl Mandy