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Issue 13 view printable version

Islamic Tourism Prospects

View World Tourism Exhibitions

 

Hospitality

The essential component in travel and tourism

I have been visiting Europe every year for the last fifty years to attend specialised exhibitions related to my work and industrial interest. Currently I am focusing on tourism. From the exhibitions I go to visit companies: to see and train sometimes, or sign contracts to buy machines, tools and materials for my shoe factories and related items. To-date I have attended more than 250 exhibitions – on average five a year.

These exhibitions are located in different places, sometimes in main cities, such as Paris, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Milan or London. Sometime they are held in small cities such as Brimens in Germany, Florence in Italy, and other places in Europe including Poland.

As a rule, I do not plan my visits or arrange any programmes or bookings. You find me always busy trying to solve the dilemma of securing accommodation while taking part in these exhibitions. Similar things happen when I travel for business in the busy time of exhibitions and work seasons. The hotels are not sufficient to accommodate the increasing demand despite the escalation in hotel construction. Hotels have been booked by exhibitors a year in advance so how did I manage to find a place to sleep?

When hotels are filled with tourists and exhibitors, I will reveal my strategy for finding accommodation for the one, two or three nights I spend at the exhibition.

Brimens is a small town in Germany that has two large hotels and few guest houses. It used to host the largest and most important international footwear exhibition that features the most important developments in the technology of this industry. It used to be attended

by specialised industrialists from all over the world. How could such a small town accommodate thousands of people for three days?

There used to be three accommodation offices for exhibition visitors; one in the train station; one at the gate of the exhibition and a third at a different location in town. These offices provided every one of the visitors with accommodation and did not leave a single individual perplexed or without accommodation.

Choices had to be made: If you have a car you can stay in one of the neighbouring villages which have no more than two hotels and a number of guest houses. During my many visits to Brimns I stayed in the guest houses. I was the guest of the exhibition and I got the warmest welcome from the housewives; old ladies or young ones with children. My time at the guest houses left a good, lasting impression because of the respect and special endearment that I received during breakfast time. I was served a beautiful breakfast, with different types of fresh bread, tea, boiled eggs, jams - and many questions about different aspects of my life. This was indicative of the special attention that was being paid to me. There were questions about my family life, traditions in my country and other questions that engender love and respect rather than animosity and mistrust.

Trust and respect is enhanced when the hosts give the guests the keys to their house. All this service for very reasonable prices which is no more than a quarter of what I would pay in a middle of the range hotel.

Brimens and its surroundings made these exhibitions very charming for visitors, and for the other exhibitors. The same hospitality is extended to visitors who come to the numerous festivals hosted by German towns.

I had the same pleasant experience in Italy while I was visiting Milan, the economic capital - a very crowded place during the ‘exhibition season’. This once forced me to stay in a small room in a family flat in a suburb of Milan. The family consisted of an old lady and a young lady with her daughter. They spoke no other language but Italian, so it was difficult to communicate with them but they offered good hospitality for a low price.

 

"We can give Lebanon as an example of a country which is preparing for all aspects of tourism is making itself ready for the influx of tourists after years of civil war. Buildings and cities are being decorated, roads opened, hotels and supermarkets built. The well established mountain villages are ready to receive visitors as has been the case for centuries. My memory of these resorts goes back to 1947 and after.

 

The big question is what makes these families open their doors to the visitors of this or other exhibitions? Is it a local or national contribution to the business of receiving foreigners and trying to learn something from them? Or is it a way of solving the problem of over crowding that could affect the exhibition, the city and the economy of the state?

Is it a response to local and national calls to alleviate the shortage of accommodation by providing private lodgings for visitors? Or is it the financial needs of the locals who need to generate some extra income?

I suspect it is the sum total of these considerations. And what encourages such a tradition is the climate of peace, trust and efficient co-ordination between the accommodation offices and the private dwellings. This doesn’t just happen in Brimens - it is also the practise in other German cities large and small and other European cities where peace and trust prevails and allows families to open their doors to visitors - not only to visitors coming for festivals and special occasions but also to students and short term workers. These services are provided at a very low cost or in exchange for services in the house,

especially for young ladies, all within rules of hospitality. I have different stories from Paris. I used to attend Leather Week, held normally in the beginning of September; that is when the wheel of work starts moving again after the summer holidays. The crowds move from the coast to the industrial and economic cities, such as Paris and it is difficult to get accommodation if you have not booked in advance. Yes, I had many different experiences in trying to get accommodation. I sometimes stayed in large hotels such as George Sand, Concord Lafet, Versai the famous palace, La Grand Hotel, Intercontinental, Sheraton and others. I was also forced to stay in cheap hotels, such as a small hotel in the Pecal district - the entertainment district that does not sleep. I had a similar experience in Rome. But I did not learn from these experiences and have always relied on God, my pocket and my ability to adjust.

The trips I have described were all made when industry and the economic prowess of Germany and Europe were on the ascendancy. Europe’s wealth has increased, economic activity is spreading throughout the continent, competition is increasing throughout the world in every sector including travel and tourism and now supply exceeds demand and over crowding is a thing of the past.

But this is not the end of the story as there are many new events in the various fields of tourism such as sports festivals, conferences and religiously motivated travel. Religious tourism, especially in developing countries, is gaining in importance.

We can give Lebanon as an example of a country which is preparing for all aspects of tourism is making itself ready for the influx of tourists after years of civil war. Buildings and cities are being decorated, roads opened, hotels and supermarkets built. The well established mountain villages are ready to receive visitors as has been the case for centuries.

My memory of these resorts goes back to 1947 and after. Since then the country has become proud of its festivals, such as the festival of Bikfaya which used to be called "The Flower Festival", as well as Zahla, Baalbeck and other festivals.

I would like to see the organisers paying more attention when arranging tourist accommodation, ensuring it is suitably marketed and priced. Tourism in Lebanon should be a song that every Lebanese sings and works hard for. The Lebanese people should be generous towards their guests and they should set the highest example for the surrounding countries in the region.

The same goes for Syria which has a diversity of tourist resources different from Lebanon, such as its religious places, big cities, traditional markets etc. This ensures a stream of visitors the numbers dependingon the religious occasions and time of year.

Saudi Arabia has its own experience of coping with a large number of pilgrims during Hajj and Umrah. I had my own experience of staying with my family in a house that was not far from Mecca. In fact, half of the dwellings in Mecca were emptied to accommodate God’s guests.

Last and not least, we mention Iraq where its religious cities, such as Najaf and Kerbala, have lately witnessed a huge influx of visitors, from inside and outside the country, particularly from neighbouring Iran, reaching more than a million, despite the violent clashes and the break down of law and order.

It is the duty of the Iraqi people and their offices – especially the specialised ones – to be prepared to receive visitors as respected guests whatever their social standing, through use of the new technological developments in computers and means of communications to facilitate the movement of travellers from the minute they arrive at their destination. These computers programmes are available now in most international tourism fairs and can be used to ensure the welfare and safety of tourists, as well the locals.

Let us take the necessary steps towards creating love and harmony between nations - especially neighbouring ones - as Europe did by combining 25 countries into a single entity whose citizens enjoy freedom of movement. Let’s make tourism and travel a sacred slogan reminiscent of the voyages of the legendary Arab traveller Ibn Battuta, that is not affected by acts of terrorism so we can gain all the countless benefits that tourism will reap.

May Allah guide us to the best of deeds.

_

 

 


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