View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, April 23, 2007

Frankfort! Florence! Fujairah!

This is the text for the front of my new Sheesha range of T shirts especially designed for tourists to remind them of the wonderful holiday they had in the United Arab Emirates. It will have the text in Arabic on the back but I fear I won’t get the same alliteration.

Some enterprising tourists who visited the Middle East at the time of the Asian Games in Qatar said they found a dearth of souvenirs in this region, especially those that might be attractive to young people. They brainstormed lots of ideas, from clothing to coffee cups that had stylish calligraphy and Arabic art, as they contemplated their new business proposition.

But forgetting the souvenirs for a moment, what are the sights and the activities that might not only attract tourists to Fujairah and the East Coast but prove to make an enriching holiday experience?

Sankha Guha, the travel writer for the British Independent newspaper is one of many to believe that ‘Fujairah is full of eastern promise’. Writing about his trip to Fujairah last year he prophesied (29 January 2006) that Fujairah might be “the next big story from this region.” Then after making a few snide remarks at Fujairah’s roundabouts, that he said, didn’t quite measure up to Nelson’s Column in London or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, he headed off to Le Meridien’s Al Aqah resort to spend a week writing about beaches, boats, bikinis, bedrooms, balconies and beef bacon. What sort of travel writing is that?

Is the Fujairah Tourist Task Force merely going to major on its get-away beach resorts or are there other things local and international tourists might see and experience?

There are few travel reports that give more than a two star rating to the Fujairah holiday experience. Most of the ones posted on Travel Sites contain snippets like this one from seasoned travellers Ed and Pam Hahn:

“We did some exploring of Fujairah on foot. Pam walked all the way to the corniche, an hour round trip, while I explored a nearby shopping mall and the high rise World Trade Center. Neither of us was very impressed with what we saw. Perhaps our expectations exceeded the reality.”

“Fujairah has a 70km coastline and is the only emirate situated entirely along the Gulf of Oman. As we discovered, there is much natural beauty of the rugged and raw variety. The mountains are jagged, the desert is sparse and rocky and the beaches are pristine. Evidently the diving can be spectacular. Unfortunately, it is also one of the world’s busiest oil bunkering ports and we could see the ships lined up for miles waiting to take on their cargo. Not surprisingly, bilge emptying has had a deleterious effect on the harbour.”

“Our next stop was the mosque and watch towers at Al Bidya. We rate this as one of the highlights of the whole trip to the UAE.”

“We drove back to Fujairah to visit the Heritage Center, which is north of the Fujairah City Center - what a disappointment. It is intended to portray the traditional life of the Emirate people, including traditional houses, utensils, tools and other items as well as the system used for irrigating fields, including the working bull that makes the system go. We saw a bull but it was so old and sickly, I doubt if it could walk on its own. Nothing was labelled in either Arabic or English. For what its worth, the village is open all day; every day and entry is free.”

“We had a late lunch at a gauche looking but interesting Lebanese restaurant, across from our hotel, the Al Meshwar, Faseel Rd., telephone: 09-2229225. The food was excellent and the ambiance of the smoke-filled ground floor, reserved for men only, was fascinating. We ate upstairs. I wanted shwarma but they only serve it at night. This seemed weird to me given that the meat for shwarma is cooked continuously.”

“The next day we requested a late check out and grabbed a taxi to the Fujairah Museum and the nearby Fujairah Fort. The Fujairah Museum has displays of archaeological artefacts found in excavations throughout the Emirate, some going back over 4000 years. There is an exhibit of Islamic Art and other exhibits to illustrate traditional lifestyles. You need only budget about 30-45 minutes to see everything in this museum. It’s open from 8 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 6 pm every day except Saturday. Entrance costs 5 Dirham. Picture taking is allowed.”

“We walked the quarter mile or so to the Fujairah Fort. It’s actually a construction zone. Reportedly 360 years old, the fort was severely damaged in the early twentieth century by the British. It appears they’re just getting around to repairing it some 90+ years later. I think it will be an interesting place to visit someday but it certainly wasn’t the day we were there. The fort itself was locked tight. Everything else was under construction. I believe they plan to move the museum to the fort when they finish restoring it.”

“On our way back to Dubai, we drove through the Masafi Friday Market which is actually open every day. In addition to the usual tourist oriented junk, vendors sell fruits and vegetables as well as some interesting handicrafts including fabrics and pottery.”

“Our overall impression of the East Coast tourist scene is that it is ‘a work in progress.’ Unless you like diving or beach resorts, I would suggest there are other destinations in the UAE or Oman that would make better use of your time.”

With the Dubai government and businesses pouring buckets of money into Disneyland-styled tourist attractions, Fujairah will need to lift its game if it hopes to attract even a small proportion of the 15 million tourists and 120 million passengers that HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is expecting to come to Dubai each year by 2010.

Forecasted this week (22 April 2007) by the Khaleej Times is a ‘Wildlife Sanctuary Coming Up in Fujairah’. Planned for the popular Al Weraiaa area that is home to archaeological sites, rare wildlife and scenic waterfalls, the concept appears to be an attraction that will showcase and preserve rare animals and plants. It will be good to learn the detail of this new project and see how it fits into the overall tourism plan that the Fujairah leaders are plotting for this region.

What are the premiere attractions that you take visitors to experience in Fujairah?

And if Sankha Guha and others are right, that Fujairah is “full of eastern promise,” what are the attractions that you would like to see emerge?

Geoff Pound

Image: The mosque and tower at Al Bidya.