Domestic Tourism: From Nature & Archaeological Sites To Shopping Malls & Cafes

“I miss the tourist capital Ibb and its green mountains and the powerful waterfall. I miss the dreamy, cultural city Taiz and al-Skoon Park that reaches the sky, as well as looking at the old historical archaeological sites and mosques in it. I miss the charming city Aden and its golden beaches. I miss the quiet city, Haraz, that is above the clouds. I miss more and more natural places in my homeland Yemen, but with tied hands I can’t visit any of them. I can’t even go on a simple tour to the mountains and valleys of Sana’a City. The only places to enjoy my free time are parks, shopping malls and cafes”,   says Bassam, a 39-year-old father of three.

Yemen enjoys natural and archeological landscapes everywhere. Every governorate is distinguished from the other by its own traditions, customs and archaeological landmarks. In the past, when millions of foreign tourists were visiting Yemen yearly, they described it as a museum because of its old ornate buildings and the large number of archaeological sites. However, despite the wide expanses of beauty, internal and external tourism has stopped completely because of the lack of security and the political problems.

What is generally unknown by the wider world and by some Yemenis is that during the last four years, Yemen has lost a lot of archaeological landmarks and tourism areas.

 Photo Courtsey of Tamjid Aziz al-Kohali

Photo Courtsey of Tamjid Aziz al-Kohali

According to preliminary statistics from Abdulkareem al-Barkani, Protection Director in the Antiquities Authority, approximately 62 archaeological sites were damaged by Saudi bombing and internal clashes, adding to the 26 religious monuments such as ancient historic mosques that have been damaged. Moreover, approximately 4,000 historical buildings have been destroyed in Old Sana’a, which had entered the World Heritage List in 1986.

“The total number of destroyed tourist sites and historical landmarks is 88, without counting the damage incurred in Old Sana’a. In fact, we expect more, these are only preliminary statistics because war and conflict still threaten the lives of committees which survey and register all sites and landmarks in all provinces”, continues al-Barkani. “The war has produced two factors threatening Yemen’s heritage and tourist attractions: the first is terrorist groups and Saudi air raids; the second is mafia and the merchants of antiquities.”

Since ancient times, Yemenis love to enjoy their homeland’s nature more than anything else. At the weekends, the mountains of the capital Sana'a were crowded with people. During long vacations, Sana’a was emptied of people because most of them travel to other governorates and villages. 

Bassam has lived with his family in the capital, Sana’a, for many years. He has talked openly to al-Madaniya magazine about the changes that have been occurring in Yemenis’ lifestyles during the last four years. According to Bassam, the changes have made life worse and forced Yemenis to live in a way that doesn’t fit their nature.

“I still remember when I was asking my children at the weekend whether they want to go to a park, eat ice-cream in any shopping mall or go to a Wadi Dahar. Their answer was always ‘Wadi Dahar’, to enjoy the pure weather and to look at the archaeological landmark (Dar al-Hijr). Me and my family love to travel and to go on a picnic,  butbecause ofthe warand the miserable current situation, traveling to any governorate becomes difficult and expensive, as if travelling abroad”, explains Bassam.

Visiting public spaces or traveling to other governorates is no longer easy for all Yemenis, not only Bassam. There are many obstacles faced by Yemeni citizens. One of the main obstacles is the insecurity.

Bushra al-Musawa, a teacher in a public school,  says that she used to visit Taiz often – yearly or twice a year and sometimes at the weekend. She would arrive in Taiz within four hours, enjoying the natural views between Sana’a and Taiz. However, as a result of the war, the road has become in places damaged and unpassable, forcing travelers and bus drivers to take new routes that are rugged and insecure.

 Photo Courtesy of Tamjid Aziz al-Kohali

Photo Courtesy of Tamjid Aziz al-Kohali

Al-Musawa adds that there are dozens of checkpoints are scattered along the way where the traveler spends a long time showing their things and papers. “In fact the travel from Sana’a to Taiz has become a journey of suffering towards the unknown. The lives of passengers are exposed to risk at any moment because of the expected clashes between the conflicted parties. This is why I have not traveled to Taiz for two years”, she says.

Aden, which is considered the best summer vacation location by Yemenis from all provinces, is no longer easy for any of the northerners to go. Aden City, located in the south, has beautiful beaches, gulfs and tourist resorts as well as friendly people. There are no problems or friction between the people in the south and the north. However, the political problems between the government and the Houthis in Sana’a have created difficulties for northerners wishing to enter Aden, almost preventing them.

“Whoever wants to travel to Aden must first obtain a permit from the Coordination Council of the Resistance, which may take more than a week. Most people will not be able to get the permit if they don’t have mediation or a known person in the resistance leadership”, states Bassam.

As well as the lack of security and the difficult processes, the high travel costs and rising prices have deprived Yemenis of living their lives as they want. Their main goal is to earn a living. “The cost of going on a trip or traveling have become four times higher than what it was before. Honestly, it cannot be paid by most Yemenis today. The reason behind this is the increase of oil prices from 2,500 to 5,500 riyals for only 20 liters. If I decide to go on a picnic, I need 20 liters of oil at the very least, adding tothe cost of food that has become more expensive than it was in the past”, adds Bassam.

By nature, people seek to comfort themselves whatever their circumstances. When trips within the country and cities became difficult, Yemenis began to change their experience of domestic tourism, instead going to shopping malls and cafes. According to owners of cafes in Sana’a, in the past almost all coffee shop customers were foreigners and few Yemenis, but now a large number of Yemenis of different ages flock to their cafes every day.

“On last Eid vacation, I couldn’t travel to my city Taiz. Also, I couldn’t go on a picnic with my family because of high prices, and the unpaid salaries for over a year. So I decided to go with my friends to enjoy my time in a new cafe near my house, named Palm Complex. In the beginning, I hesitated because it was my first time. Going to a cafe and spending time there is an unfamiliar experience for me. However, I was surprised by the crowds there, and I couldn’t even have a seat”, explains Bushra.

 PHOTO COURTesy OF THIYAZEN AL-ALAWI

PHOTO COURTesy OF THIYAZEN AL-ALAWI

The technology, and confining Yemenis to their local areas, are reasons people are pushed to visit cafes and shopping malls, where you can see children with their parents and teens with their friends enjoying services. In the past, there were only three cafes in Sana’a, while today many new cafes and malls are open, most during the last three years.

Moreover, owners of cafes and malls offer good services for people, such as the Internet, a quiet atmosphere where people can enjoy and forget about their daily commitments, a comfortable zone for working and studying, and also a women’s section, which is considered one of the most attractive privileges of cafes and malls in Yemen.

“The war has changed the lifestyle of all Yemenis. It prevents them from doing many things. At the same time, it makes them turn toward other things indirectly in order to continue their lives. People are thirsty for happiness and will accept anything to comfort themselves. Therefore, a lot of people are more open to the idea of cafes, and they are found in shopping malls”, concludes Bushra.