OP-ED

The Sana’a Seventh Summer Festival Is Better and Worse Than Previous Years

By Tamjid Alkohali

“Eight days is better than nothing.” That was the logic of officials for organizing the Sana’a Summer Seventh Festival this year 2014.

Despite all the difficult circumstances and challenges faced by the country, the Ministry of Tourism in cooperative with the Tourism Promotion office insists on holding the festival every year.

The ideas of the tourism begins in 2006, when the festival launched for the first time in Asabaeen Park. In general, the festival was designed to promote and reflect the heritage, civilization and history of Yemen as few features of the country many attractive tourism options.

Sana’a was chosen to be the headquarters of the festival for many reasons. First of all, Sana’a includes the largest amount of services and security, and it is a historical city with a specificity of culture and heritage. It also includes a number of archaeological and historical sites as well as museums, traditional markets and many stores for handicraft products, adding to its moderate climate over the summer season.

The first festival lasted for 30 days, featuring various cultural events with attendance by a large number of Yemenis and foreigners. At that time, Yemen was enjoying security, stability and thriving tourism.

The festival was launched annually until 2010 with the supported of many government and foreign agencies. However, it stopped two years ago as a result of the crisis of Yemen revolution 2011 against the former President.

Since then, the situation in Yemen grows  worse politically, economically and socially. Tourist traffic is completely stopped because of frequent kidnappings and insecurity.

After two-years of postponement, Sana’a Summer Festival resumed again the program for the  sixth time on August 18 2013.

According to official in charge of the festival, the festival shouldn’t cease, because it has many benefits for the society, and the homeland in general.

Sana’a Sixth Summer Festival re-launched again having multi messages to all the people around the country. The festival’s slogan “To a Civilian, Modern, Safe and Stable Yemen.”

According to the Eco-Tourism General Director and Sana’a Summer Festival committee member Hussein Askr, the paucity of the festival’s budget limited the duration to two weeks. The budget allocated for the festival was 60 million riyals. The Secretariat of the Capital also agreed to contribute 30% of the total cost, bringing the total fund available for the festival to nearly 100 million riyals.

In 2014, the Ministry of Tourism began to prepare for the Sana’a Summer Seventh Festival, some economists began demanding the president to stop holding the festival, considering it a failed project which doesn’t achieve any returns for tourism and economic activity in Yemen, emphasizing that the previous festivals didn’t have any positive impact for the local, regional, and international levels.

They said the festival cost a lot of money at the time when Yemen is suffering from bad economic deterioration and high rates of poverty.

However, officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Tourism Promotion board have shared different points of views. They said the economic conditions and security should not be an obstacle to the establishment such festivals. If the festival doesn’t improve foreign tourism due to lawlessness, it can positively affect domestic tourism and awareness of people.

Despite of the opposition, the Sana’a Summer Seventh Festival was launched according to the plan carrying a similar message of the previous one.

The difference between the last year festival is the government  including four Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.

The Executive Director of the Tourism Promotion Board, Fatima Al-Houribi, said the festival passed through hard political and economic situation. It was close to be cancelled. “Participants and some of the community  demanded to extend the festival but it  was impossible with small budget  allocated for the festival.

Up to  now, there aren’t any definitive statistics for the costs of the festival. However, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the festival, Matahar Taqi, estimated the costs of the festival until the second day to be about 150 million Riyals.

Al-Houribi emphasized that the only support for the festival is the Tourism Promotion Board. Both the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Promotion office didn’t reap any material benefits.

“We held the festival while we knew very well there wouldn’t be any profits to the state or ministry, invitation was free for all, but the moral benefit, which makes people happy, is of the most importance,” she said.

People from different ages visited the festival. According to Dr. Essam Ali Alsunaini, Deputy Minister of Administration and Financial Affairs, the number of people who visited the festival were about three million. Most of them focused on the entertainment aspect such as attending dances and concerts.

Despite the festival being held for the seventh time with more costs, it was better and worse than the previous festivals.

The participation of all governorates proved the unity of Yemen. The festival took people out of the atmospheres of political conflicts and economic crises, where people met and shared their experiences, knowledge, and cultures.

On other hand, the organization of the festival has many shortcomings. The time was short. The location was small while the visitors increased. In addition, some complained about allowing Qat inside the tents and the lack of good organization.