HE Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority recently spoke to Travel News Digest.The Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) recently held an event under the theme ‘All Things New in Sharjah’. Can you throw light on some of the new developments and activities in the tourism sector?Sharjah is witnessing a number of new hospitality and tourism developments that will add to its charm as a popular tourist destination in the region. One of the major upcoming tourism projects is Al Noor Island in Sharjah’s Khalid Lagoon. The AED 80 million ($22 million) project, an iconic destination in the emirate, consists of a uniquely designed streamlined structure inspired by the natural environment of butterflies. A key attraction, the Butterfly House, is a nature-inspired structure hosting as many as 500 exotic butterflies brought from Far East Asian countries.The emirate’s latest destination for a family day out is the Al Montazah Park, a 126,000 square metre water themed park featuring eight pulsating rides. The park is also distinct for its massive green spaces and designated facilities for children. For adults and children seeking an extra bit of adventure, the park offers Al Montazah Adventures which consists of a number of gladiator-inspired obstacle courses divided into different difficulty levels.New hospitality developments include Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort & Spa, Sharjah’s latest and most extensive beach resort nestled amid uninterrupted palm-fringed beaches in the emirate. Another major hospitality development is Novotel Sharjah Expo, a new business hotel that will cater to the requirements of the emirate’s various sectors and activities at Sharjah’s prime MICE location, the Expo Centre Sharjah. Apart from these projects, the Majlis Grand Mercure Sharjah – Resort & Spa operated by Accor is coming up at the Sharjah Corniche as the first Art & Culture themed 5-Star-Deluxe Resort in the luxury segment.Sharjah has taken proactive steps to transform its eco-tourism landscape with the launch of a number of projects in this area. Prominent among these is the Kalba Eco-tourism Project which is aimed at preserving the diverse habitats and rich wildlife on the east coast of Sharjah. The location allows visitors to enjoy a peaceful time in natural settings featuring lagoons, mangroves and mountains.Another landmark eco-tourism project is Sir Bu Nuair Island, located 65 km off the UAE coastline in the Arabian Gulf. The project will host a five-star hotel and resort, hotel apartments and villas as well as a number retail and leisure offerings amid stunning natural scenery and beautiful beaches.Sharjah is also transforming a 25,000 hectare area in the Maleiha region of the emirate into a major eco-tourism destination that will reflect the regional culture, history and eco-system. The project will feature leisure facilities and accommodation such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, and cafes, and Visitors Centre in addition to offering specialist tours of Maleiha’s protected areas.Sharjah is hosting for the first time the UIM-ABP Aquabike Class Pro Circuit World Championship – Grand Prix of Sharjah on December 19-20, 2015, extending the excitement of UIM F1H2O World Championship 2015 – Grand Prix of Sharjah organised for the 16th year in the emirate. Aquakbike racing is the only UIM sanctioned and leading World Championship, and is one of the most popular products of H2O Racing. It is a unique global event merging extreme sports with glamour and is a showcase for a youthful and dynamic lifestyle that will enrich the list of action-packed events in Sharjah’s tourism calendar.How do you envision ‘Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021’? What are the chief objectives?Sharjah’s tourism sector has received a new strategic direction with Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority launching the Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021, aiming to attract 10 million visitors to the emirate in the next five years. The Vision is built on four key pillars. As part of the first pillar, Sharjah will be promoted as an Ideal Family Tourism Destination by offering distinct packages and offers specially designed for families. The second pillar will involve an Innovative Tourism Approach to improve the tourist experience through the provision of innovative solutions. World Class Tourism Facilities and Capabilities constitute the third pillar to enhance efficiencies in tourism sector through partnership and collaborative action. International Cultural Hub is the fourth pillar which will help achieve the Vision through effective promotion of cultural and heritage elements among families.Sharjah has also undertaken the task of human skill development in the hotel sector under the ‘Marhabtein’ training programme. How far has it been successful?The ‘Marhabtein’ training programme is one of the most successful initiatives launched under the Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021. The comprehensive training programme has contributed to enhancing efficiencies through collaborative action and promoting Sharjah as a destination with world class tourism facilities and capabilities. In the first phase of the initiative, SCTDA partnered with Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority (SRTA) to start a training programme for taxi drivers in Sharjah to improve their service delivery and equip them with capabilities to provide a better experience for visitors to the emirate.In the second phase of the initiative, SCTDA launched ‘YOU@SHARJAH’ Front Line Training Programme to develop human resource capabilities in the hotel sector. The new programme targeted at front office staff, including receptionists and customer service representatives, who deal directly with tourists and guests.Another training programme was organised for senior executives in the Sharjah hotel and tourism sector to provide them with updated knowledge, skills and tools on the power of data to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of hotel and tourism business operations in Sharjah.Can you specifically underline the initiatives taken to attract Indian tourists to the city?The emirate of Sharjah remains a favourite destination for tourists from India, especially since the UAE has close ties with India and hosts a large number of residents from the Indian community. Sharjah attracted more than 135,000 tourists from India in 2014, recording a 23% increase compared to 2013.Sharjah has positioned itself as a world class tourist destination for the entire family. The emirate offers a variety of attractions for everyone in the family, from dazzling shows and carnivals to enchanting parks and stunning desert landscapes as well as scenic man-made lagoons and an array of cultural and edutainment locations. For the adventurous, the emirate offers water sports, snorkelling and diving activities on its east coast, where families have the option to either camp on the beach or stay in any of the motels and hotels that line the coast. Are there further plans of launching new flights for easing air connectivity?Sharjah’s Air Arabia connects the emirate with 13 Indian cities through 112 flights a week. Considering that tourists from India form a major chunk of visitors to the emirate, efforts will continue to provide easier air connectivity to visitors from the country.What facilities are being provided to Indians for visit/tourist visa procurement?Sharjah is offering tourist visa for 30 days and 90 days with easy documentation and at affordable prices, which can be easily availed through Sharjah Airport Travel Agency (SATA).