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Tourism potential based on rich cultural heritage

Interview - February 29, 2012
Mr. Faisal Al Nuaimi, Deputy General Manager, Ajman Culture & Media Department, describes his plans to develop tourism and attract investment

Please describe the role Culture plays in Ajman life.

Culture is a way of life. We do not intend to impose our way of life on others. We are just introducing this aspect of ourselves, and sharing how we used to live in the past. We are trying to reconcile our history and our present lives and find a way to merge these two together in a manner that is relevant to the world today. The goal is to enrich people's lives with the knowledge that they come from a rich culture and a proud heritage.

This is the sort of flavor that we would like to bring in terms of our structure and design. Take the Ajman Museum, for example. It was built in 1757, as a fort. It served as a stronghold for the political leaders of the Emirates. It has a strong history, and is touted as one of the archeological sites that demonstrate society's continuous progress.

The structure itself passed on from family to family, and reflects the different periods that each of its inhabitants have faced. It survived the war of 1820, was restored, served as the Ruling family's home during the 1970s, and then converted into Ajman's Police HQ. During the last leg of the 1980s, the former Ruler of Ajman, H.H. Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al-Nuaimi, decided to convert the fort into a museum. It was to be a modern museum in a historical landmark. It was a challenging venture, but they managed to do it through the help of the Bahrain and Dubai Governments. They worked together for about two years to convert the fort into the Ajman Museum.

The Ajman Museum does not really contain antiques like other museums, but the Middle Eastern/Emirate way of life. When you step inside the museum, you will get a feel of how our ancestors used to live in the past. A collection of stories made over thousands of years contained in one structure—that is what the Ajman Museum is all about.

What makes this landmark unique in the whole of Emirates is that it is the only museum that encompasses the whole of recoverable history. It is a link to the past. Its integrity remains intact. It is the oldest building that has been converted into a museum. The traditional and historical aspects of it remain uncompromised.

Then you have Al Manama near the historical city of Masfut which encompasses Muzera’a and Sabgha. Here, you will find the descendants of the Badwat and bani Ka’ab, two prominent tribal groups in Ajman.

Apart from that, we have the Al Mareer Fort, the Village Mosque, the Hassa Buweid Castle, and the Red Fort—all remarkable heritage sites worth visiting.

In Ajman we have a lot of councils. For instance, we have started the National Council of Tourism and Heritage. We have signed an agreement with the Federal Government to preserve these heritage sites. We lobbied for International Council of Museums (ICOM) to include Ajman's museums and heritage sites. Through this, we hope to showcase our history, culture and traditions—how we used to live in the past, how old the structures are, and so on. A couple of months from now, all these spots will be recorded officially in ICOM.

This is the heritage of Ajman, and the steps we have taken to maintain them for future generations. 

You mentioned there the efforts of certain government councils in helping preserve the culture of Ajman, how valuable has this support been and what other efforts has the government proactively made to preserving Ajman’s heritage?

The government of Ajman has been very supportive. In fact, it recently initiated a new development to take care of tourism development and all its aspects. More than just attracting more tourists into the country, this department will look into the things that touristic institutions need and ways to fill them.

Furthermore, the government has made sure that we got all the land and sites that we need to set up tourism attractions. We just need the plan.

How is this plan being created?

In a couple of months, we hope to successfully coordinate with other tourism developments in the whole of UAE (e.g., Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah etc). We hope to achieve some sort of knowledge transfer, learning from what they have experienced when they first set up, including the obstacles that they have faced and the mistakes they have made. This way, we can try to avoid doing the same mistakes they made.

We need to determine our main selling point—what unique thing can we offer you? We want to look at the shortfalls of others and try to fix them on our end. Perhaps we can provide something that is not offered in the other parts of the Emirates.

Basically, we do not want to invest money in the same thing that our neighbors already have. We want to come up with something different. Instead of having the same thing, we can develop our own project and serve the whole country.

Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai are some of the most active cities in tourism. Each one has its own unique selling point. For instance, Abu Dhabi invested hugely in their museums. In fact, they have 12 in existence and another 24 coming (the most ambitious of which is its cultural tourist center, set to be erected off-coast from the city, complete with branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums).

As for educational tourism, you have Sharjah. Dubai, on the other hand, is known for its leisure products.

We need to meet with them to know which angle to take. It is the same thing for other tourism organizations. We need to find out the things that they require when they come to this part of the world.

There is also the quality of life aspect. We have to find out what the customers expect from Ajman, and the things that they require to make their stay comfortable here. Through this, we mean to establish a standard for our tourism sites, including all four categories of accommodation (i.e., hotels, motels, and so forth). We will set a minimum requirement that applies to all places within the city.

Another thing that we want to improve on is the quality of our tourist guides. They need to be properly informed and trained. Right now, we have a number of tourist guides who come up with their own stories about certain sites. This is wrong and it gives Ajman a bad name. Moreover, it perpetuates misinformation, which goes against everything we are working on. That is why we are coming up with proper tourist guides with reliable knowledge. These are well-trained locals proficient in four languages (including Arabic). They should know the appropriate way of communicating with the tourists, while teaching them our traditions. More importantly, these trained professional tourist guides will be telling the right stories.

This program should help us generate more jobs for our people here. Young people can come to us and go through a six-month training program. After which, we will supervise them for three months. That is all they need to do. They get a job in the end. They can be government employees, or work from home. They can be an on-call tourist guide. They can work in line with the demand. We hope to have an Academy for this field in the next two years. Of course, the market is not limited to Ajman. We hope to provide our services to the other parts of the UAE, as well. In the same vein, we can provide our services to touristic institutions outside the country. For instance, if there is a tour agency in Colombia that needs to know more about the UAE, they can come here and learn.     

For these ambitious plans and realizations to be developed, there will undoubtedly need to be a large amount of investment in the Emirate. Please tell us a bit more about some of the opportunities that can be found in this respect for global investors?

When it comes to investments, you would know that money has limitations. We cannot just say that we have billions to invest. To attract investors, we have to establish that we have something to offer here. We have to showcase the kind of potential that we have here.

For instance, we need coffee shops, malls, traditional restaurants, beach attractions, and the like. However, without the proper research and the right customer profiling, we will not be able to know the exact thing that we need to provide in the tourism sector here.

We will have a completely separate investment department for tourism in Ajman. They will be in charge of attracting investors and tourism programs into Ajman. These investors could be locals. They can also be from outside of the country.

We hope to come up with a proper plan within a year. This plan will be ready for implementation, as well.

For investors and tourist alike, what can they expect from the Emirate at its present moment?

The first thing that you need for tourism is road infrastructure. We have been doing very well with the municipalities over the last 10 years. Most of the roads are available now. All the bridges have been set up. There is only one bridge left to do. At the same time, there are several well-known 5-star hotels coming to Ajman that are set to be ready by the end of 2012. This should attract some tourists in the area. This is critical because until these hotels are ready, we will not be able to build new tourism attractions in the city.

However, we do mean to improve the current situation where people come for 2 to 3 days, after spending 20 days in Dubai. They do this because they feel that there is nothing to do here. We hope that the coming establishments will change that. We will have branded hoteliers available through our websites and through collaborative endeavors with other entities we have nearly 400 hotels available, most of which will be by the beach. We do have 5-star hotels, as well as 3-star to 4-star establishments. The other establishments will mainly cater to business people coming in for business trips.  

What can you tell our readers about the social demographics that can be found in the Emirate of Ajman?

The good thing about Ajman is that we have a combination of people living by the coast and the Bedouins. In other big cities with sea, there is a big difference between these two. Here in Ajman, there is little to tell them apart.

Our goal is to demonstrate that there really is no difference between these two segments, save for some aspects of their way of life (e.g., the manner to which they acquire their medicines, their traditional music, and so on). Getting medication for Bedouins is really tough. You will not be able to take it if you live along the coast. However they do engage in trade. These traditions still exist in real life and the distinction between these two groups is still evident.   

And lastly, considering our global audience what final message or comment would you like make about Ajman to the readers?

There is a huge gap between perception and what is actually taking place in Ajman. When you come here, you will be pleased with what you find. Ours is a rich heritage that we only mean to share—not impose. This sort of history is something that they can learn from. It may even help in creating a more well-rounded view of the world. We welcome visitors. They are sure to enjoy their stay here.