At a time when the world economy is still struggling and global tourism market is yet to regain its full health, Sharjah continues to attract international visitors in overwhelming numbers.

The emirate has reported 75 per cent hotel occupancy – hotels and hotel apartments — in the first quarter of this year, a significant increase over last year’s figures, bucking the current global trend, according to the statistics report released today by the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.

The report offering new statistics for the emirate’s booming tourism sector performance for the first quarter of 2011, was issued on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market, being held in Dubai from May 2 to 5.

Interestingly, Western visitors continue to dominate the tourist flow into the emirate known for grand architecture and breathtaking natural beauty.  With 198,668 Western tourists visiting the emirate in the first quarter of 2011, Europeans accounted for 47 per cent of the total number of foreign tourists — 421,516 — visiting Sharjah in the period under review.

The GCC citizens came second with 29 per cent of them visiting Sharjah in the first quarter.  On the other hand, Asian tourists accounted for 11 per cent with 44,492of them visiting the emirate.   They were followed by 43,694 visitors from other Arab countries who accounted for 10 per cent.

The number of visitors from Americas stood at about 2 per cent of the number of tourists visiting the emirate.  While the Africans accounted for 1 per cent, 2005 visitors came from Oceanic countries.

The report showed an overall 5 per cent growth in the occupancy rate of hotels and hotel apartments, with the number of guests jumping from 401,647 in 2010 to 421,516 this year, highlighting the resilience of the emirate’s tourism sector defying global patterns.

The total number of hotels and hotel apartments in Sharjah now stands at 107 (45 hotels and 62 hotel apartments). The total number of rooms now stands at 8,585 (4,661 hotel rooms and 3,924 hotel apartment rooms.) The total number of hotel and hotel apartment room nights registered during first quarter of 2011 stands at 478,456 compared to 411,896.

A total of 229,067 tourists stayed in the emirate’s hotels during the first quarter of 2011, as against 200,952 visitors in 2010, while the number of tourists who stayed in hotel apartments stood at 192,449 as compared to 200,695 last year.

Commenting on the figures, SCTDA Chairman Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qassimi said the statistics show the vibrancy and resilience of the emirate’s tourism sector, and its ability to maintain its previous achievements while pressing ahead with new plans and strategies for the future to further increase the tourist flow into Sharjah.

“The SCTDA is pursuing a long term strategy to develop Sharjah’s tourism sector by targeting international markets and organizing events and activities that promote the emirate, such as tourism fairs, trade fairs and promotion tours. These statistics reflect the changes that are occurring in Sharjah’s tourism sector, and the positive outcome of our efforts throughout the year,” Al Qassimi said.

He emphasised that Sharjah is undertaking new tourism projects and initiatives to attract visitors from new markets. Al Qassimi said: “The SCTDA has worked hard during the first half of 2010 as we stepped up our efforts to target the local, regional and international tourism markets so as to meet the needs of Sharjah’s fast-growing and flourishing tourism sector.”

“We will continue our endeavours to cope with the latest developments and to further promote Sharjah as a favourable tourist destination and world-class family, heritage and culture centre,” he added.

The SCTDA offered a strong and distinguished presence of Sharjah at a number of international platforms during the first quarter of 2011, including its biggest participation yet at the International Tourism Bourse Berlin. It has also successfully hosted and supported a number of major local and international events, such as the Sharjah Light Festival etc.