Yemen’s delegation to London’s World Travel Market was busy this year. Including the six tour operators already offering trips to Yemen, there are now twenty British companies planning programs for 2009 and Yemeni operators will be hosting a series of study tours in January and February next year. Other European tour operators from new markets in Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe are also keen to develop programs and are not restricted by their governments’ official travel advisories, unlike in the UK, where the Travel Advice for Yemen is described by the British-Yemeni Society’s tour director Alan D’Arcy as “overcautious”. Such advice however is becoming less of an issue for experienced British operators.
Yemen’s UK representative Dunira Strategy has negotiated special insurance cover with one of the UK’s top travel insurers for clients of British and Irish companies that are willing to travel to destinations currently proscribed by the Foreign Office. Said Dunira’s managing director Benjamin Carey: “I personally agree with the Foreign Office that visitors should steer clear of places like Marib and Saada, but advising against ‘all but essential travel to Sana’a’ undermines its credibility. I was there last month and several friends are there at the moment. They tell me that the scenery is as sensational as ever and the legendary hospitality remains real!”
Tour operators were interested in a number of opportunities, typically involving a 10 or 11 night itinerary that includes 2 or 3 nights in the extraordinary Old City of Sana’a, which has more than 6,000 houses dating from before the 11th Century, followed by visits to two or three other gateway destinations, such as Aden, which is full of British colonial history, Shibam, the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ with its 16th Century mudbrick skycrapers that literally rise out of the sand, and Zabid, which is an archaeologist’s paradise.
Alternative or add-on options would include 7 nights on Socotra, Yemen’s fourth and most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is known as the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’, or dive sites along the mainland or on one of the country’s more than 200 islands. Said Dunira’s program director and divemaster Christopher Imbsen: “Diving in Yemen is full of opportunities for adventurous dive operators wanting to expand their operations. Not only are there many islands, both explored and unexplored, in the Red Sea, but there is also the near mythical destination of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden. All the dive sites enjoy a profusion of tropical marine life and, with so few other visitors, you won’t have anyone else’s fins in your face in these waters!”
Another opportunity is language learning at one of Yemen’s leading institutes, since Yemeni Arabic is widely considered the purest and most beautiful in the world. Tim Mackintosh-Smith, author of Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land and who, when learning Arabic in the 1990s had to persuade his own tutor of the merits of Yemen, commented: “Yemen is the best place on Earth for learning Arabic, especially in such a fascinating and inspiring setting as Sana’a”. Arabic students that are also fans of Paul Torday’s fantastic Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will be pleased to know that they will be able to practice their language skills by reading Abdulaziz Al-Maqalih’s magnificent translation, which was launched at the Sana’a Book Fair this October.
Yemen’s Tourism Miinister Nabil Al-Faqih was delighted with the response from British tour operators and journalists and looks forward to seeing many more British visitors enjoy the tremendous climate and enduring hospitality of Yemen, which was known by the Romans as Arabia Felix.
The YTPB’s UK representative Benjamin Carey, who was there in October, added: “To see so few tourists in such an incredibly beautiful, welcoming and unique country was surprising. I felt entirely safe and am convinced that Yemen has what it takes to be a leading tourism destination of the future. There is now a real chance to support the growth of tourism in Yemen as a tool of economic development and encourage British visitors to contribute to Yemen’s development by going to enjoy Yemen’s magnificent cultural and natural heritage.”
Dunira is organizing a program of press trips and study tours and can support UK and Irish operators by arranging specially discounted rates and extended release periods on flights from the UK with Yemenia, enhanced baggage allowances on domestic flights in Yemen with Felix Airways and specialist insurance products for tour operators.
Yemen has retained its identity in the face of globalization and with an incredible range of cultural and natural treasures this unique destination offers an exceptionally diverse holiday for the discerning, responsible traveler.