By Tamjid Alkohali
The events of the Sana’a seventh summer tourist festival ended yesterday, the 31st of August, after having continued for a week under the slogan “towards safe and stable Yemen and prosperous tourism” with participation of 2,500 participants from all Yemeni provinces and different countries.
The festival launched its events at a time of political and security tension in the Yemeni capital, carrying a political message for all conflicting parties and the world as well.
“The festival this year carries a message for world that Yemeni is still a tourism destination and is stronger than any terrorism,” said Qasem Salam, the Minister of Tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism insists on holding the festival every year despite all the difficult circumstances and challenges faced by the country. According to Qasem Salam, the Sana’a festival is of great importance, and people from all governorates meet and share their experiences, knowledge, and cultures. It also has an economic importance, displaying craft products and marketing them.
“The festival emphasizes the Ministry’s commitment to implement the outputs of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and translate its decisions practically, surpassing all the challenges that surround Yemen,” Salam added.
Some demanded that President Hadi stop holding the festival for economic reasons, considering it a failed project that doesn’t achieve any returns for tourism or economic activity in Yemen.
Economists consider the festival useless in these bad conditions, emphasizing that Yemen needs security to grow tourism, though it will be more useful under safe situations.
Salam said that those who demand to cancel the festival want to cancel Yemen, the modern civilization state, including the progress and equality between people. However, the festival indicates an educated society whose people look forward a bright future in tourism.
All officials in the tourism sector agreed about the importance of holding the Sana’a Summer Festival.
The General Manager of Activities and Programs in the Tourism Ministry, Ahmed Al-Beel, who described the festival as a beautiful painting, said the festival reflects the interdependence between Yemen and the world through the participation of neighboring countries and other Arab and Islamic countries, as well as strengthens the spirit of friendship.
“The festival is considered proof for the world that the tourism sector is still alive and it can be part of the promising economic sector which embodies the culture of Yemeni people,” Al-Beel added.
Amat Al-Razzaq Jahaf is the Undersecretary of the General Authority for maintaining historical cities and a documentary researcher in Yemen heritage. She says that the aim of the festival is to stimulate domestic tourism and make an effort to distinguish and celebrate Yemen’s many provinces.
“The Sana’a Summer Festival is an opportunity to promote domestic tourism, culture, and heritage. It is a chance to respect this heritage as well and to restore it in the minds of the people by linking it to everyday life. The festival promotes feelings of belonging and national identity,” she said.
Aside from the benefits to domestic tourism, Jahaf found that another benefit of the festival is its documentation of what has disappeared from Yemen’s cultural heritage. “Before promoting foreign tourism, we need to promote internal tourism to remind citizens of Yemeni habits and traditions that have ceased to exist. I personally have learned about things with symbolic significance that were absent from my mind.”
Jahaf added that the Sana’a Summer Festival confirms the message of the NDC and the variety within the festival is the same variety that exists in the NDC. Their mission is to promote the message that, “Yemen is the country of wisdom and faith and must get out of this crisis while maintaining our unity and our cultural diversity.”
The security of the festival was one important step, which was taken into account especially during the launching of the festival that had coincided with the Houthis entering Sana’a, who still demand that the government steps down.
The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the festival, Matahar Taqi, stated that the bad security situation has affected the festival, especially when some countries abstained from participation after the killing of soldiers in Seiyun. However, festival ended peacefully in cooperation with the Interior Ministry.
“Unlike last year, this year the Interior Ministry was cooperative with us, and the Interior Minister secured the festival by putting the necessary measures to control the situation and thwart terrorist plans,” he said.
Taqi said that the festival has cost the Ministry about 150 million riyals, mostly from the Tourism Promotion Board Office.
The Executive Director of the Tourism Promotion Board, Fatima Alharbi, spoke about the board’s support for the festival. She said that the Sana’a festival, or any other festivals, are considered the best sources to develop tourism, both local and foreign.
“Unfortunately, the Tourism Promotion Board seeks success alone in such projects. The Sana’a Summer Festival was implemented without the support of any government agencies, even from the Finance Ministry and Capital Secretariat,” she said.
Alharbi added that the festival this year was distinguished by the participation of all provinces, unlike last year where only 17 provinces participated.
During the visit to the festival, no one can deny the happiness on the people’s faces while they watch the culture events.
Ali, a visitor to the festival, said that the Sana’a Festival is very important for taking the families and children away from the psychological effects imposed by the current changes and incidents. “The Sana’a Summer Festival is carrying very beautiful language representing love, peace and security, which we really miss these days,” he added.
On other hand, there was some criticism about the festival by visitors. Some complaints were allowing Qat inside the tents and the lack of good organization.