Shifting into top gear

Oman is making tourism a central plank of its economic strategy, as the country braces itself for a post-oil future pursuing its diversification drives with a renewed sense of urgency. Muhammed Nafie reports

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“We then set out for the country of Oman and arrived there after six days’ travelling. It is a fertile land, with streams, orchards, and palm gardens and fruit trees of various kinds. Its capital, the town of Nizwa, lies at the foot of a mountain and has fine bazaars and splendid clean mosques,”wrote Ibn Battuta, one of the most illustrious travellers of all time, in his epic tome, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325 – 1354. Much water has flowed down the Wadis since the 14th century Moroccan explorer went on a strenuous and exhausting trip across the length and breadth of Oman, partly on foot, partly on horseback and partly by ship.

Egyptian composer Hisham Gabr’s eponymous musical on Ibn Battuta portrays the inveterate traveller encountering a 21st century historian about to board a plane at the new Muscat International Airport. The two travel back in time and explore parts of the Islamic world, including the Sultanate.

To a modern-day traveller exploring Oman in the footsteps of the mediaeval globetrotter, the beauty of those pristine beaches and rugged mountains still remains unspoiled as if they had stuck in a time warp. But the journey, using state-of-the-art road, air and marine transport infrastructure, staying at internationally accredited hotels, swanky beachside resorts and integrated tourism complexes and enjoying ubercool hospitality services, will be a far cry from the tiring and wearing trip the Moroccan had centuries ago.

This exquisite blend of history and modernity, of cultural heritage and urban infrastructure and of natural beauty and best-in-class hospitality services is what makes today’s Oman a tourism destination of choice for international travellers. At a time when the Sultanate is bracing itself for a post-oil future, pursuing its diversification drives with a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of a steep fall in oil revenues, the government is making tourism a central plank of its economic strategy, with mega plans to enhance its appeal among tourists from across the globe with a series of initiatives such as better air connectivity, airport facility, hotels and resorts, and e-visa facility. The whole idea is to help the country mature from being an ‘emerging’ tourism market into an established one with a high-volume of repeat guests and a diverse range of feeder markets.

National Tourism Strategy

An ambitious stride towards this direction has been the recently unveiled 2040 Tourism Strategy, providing a comprehensive blueprint for tourism development in Oman and outlining a series of targets for the country’s tourism sector. The strategy unveiled by the Ministry of Tourism is a clearly defined and structured road map for future growth aimed at making tourism one of the most important economic pillars for the country’s future. The ministry has announced plans to more than double its number of international visitors over the next two decades as part of the strategy. By 2040, it aims to attract 5.3 million international visitors, in addition to 1.7 million same-day visitors and 4.6 million domestic tourists, making tourism one of the most significant income generators in the Sultanate.

MaithaElaborating on the ambitious targets of the strategy at a recent meeting convened by Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), HE Maitha bint Saif al- Mahrouqi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, said the implementation of tourism strategy would avail more than 500,000 jobs by the end of 2040, with the total investment in the sector expected to touch RO19bn of which only 12 per cent will be by the public sector. She added that hopefully the contribution of tourism sector to the GDP would range between 6 per cent and 10 per cent, which is currently estimated to account for around 2.7 per cent, and the number of SMEs would be 1,200 by 2040.

The strategy is going to be based around the development of 14 clusters, aimed at creating a series of unique tourism experiences in different areas of Oman. These clusters, reflecting local culture and heritage, will be developed over the next 10 to 15 years to become mini destinations in their own right. Based around the coastal areas of Mussandam, the Hajar Mountains, the frankincense trail in Salalah, the Muscat region and the deserts, the clusters will have a mix of quality accommodations and varied experiences. The development of these clusters would help Oman to attract visitors from one of the world’s fastest growing tourism segments-adventure tourism.

The strategy covers 15 key topics such as planning, development, investment, entrepreneurship, community involvement, sustainability of the natural and cultural environment, training, creating jobs, ensuring quality, marketing planning and management of marketing, attracting and retaining talent, human capital development, leadership competitiveness and others.

Maitha explained that the plan to implement the strategy was divided into three parts. The first part (2016-2020) includes launching a major authentic Omani experience, availing over 5,620 new hotel rooms, creating more than 7,600 new direct job opportunities and implementing the leadership and empowerment initiatives. The second part of the strategy (2012-2030) includes the launching of three Omani major experiences, adding more than 1,500 new hotel rooms and availing more than 126,900 direct jobs. The third part (2031-2040) includes the launching of three major Omani experiences, adding more than 2,900 new hotel rooms and availing more than 2,429,900 fresh direct jobs.

Getting a facelift

Meanwhile, tourism infrastructure across Oman is being rapidly enhanced, with focus on developing world-class hotels, integrated tourism complexes, resorts, dedicated facilities for cruise ships, development of public transport and airport facilities. Billions of rials have already been invested for developing two international airports and three green field regional airports. The new Muscat International Airport, expected to open by early 2017, will initially have a capacity of 12 million visitors a year which can easily be scaled up to 24 million, 36 million and even 48 million in different phases, depending on the growth of passengers.

The national carrier, Oman Air which recently launched a series of new services to several destinations is looking to expand in a big way in the coming years, by increasing its fleet and adding more cities to its destinations. Muscat National Development and Investment Company (ASAAS) recently announced that the country’s first budget airline would fly under the brand name ‘Salam Air’. “With air traffic demand expected to grow by 40 per cent by 2019, Salam Air, is anticipated to fuel economic growth by providing access to economical and efficient means of transport and further advance the aviation sector in Oman,” informs CEO, Eng Khalid bin Hilal Al Yahmadi.

Presently, more than 80 airlines operate from Muscat airport. The Muscat international airport recorded an 18 per cent growth in passenger numbers through the capital’s gateway in 2015, surpassing the 10 million-passenger mark for the first time in its operational history. Salalah Airport, which opened a modern airport in 2015, saw a rise in traffic by 22 per cent to reach more than one million passengers. There has been significant growth in visitor numbers, with a 17.7 per cent increase in the number of tourists in 2015, and over 2.4 million people visiting the Sultanate from around the world.

The number of visitors to Salalah during the Khareef season until July 25, 2016 surged by a whopping 39.9 per cent compared with figures for the same period in 2015, according to statistics released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI). NCSI statistics show that as many as 39,949 visitors reached Salalah by air as against 175,179 visitors who arrived by land. Giving a break-up of the number of visitors by air, the NCSI report said the majority of them, numbering 26,150 arrived on domestic flights while international carriers brought in 13,799 visitors.

Changing landscape 

In the period covered by the current five-year plan, tourism sector is expected to boom significantly with a large number of projects in the pipeline. Salah Al Ghazali – chief investment officer of Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran ), government of Oman’s tourism investment arm, says the company handles a number of flagship developments that are going to play a leading role in supporting the five-year plan and beyond.

Omran

The Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront is set to be an iconic development, and will see the transformation of Port Sultan Qaboos into a tourism-based mixed-use pedestrian waterfront community. Says Al Ghazali, “Omran will be making further updates regarding this project in 2017, and as you’d expect, we’re really excited by what this development will mean for Muttrah, one of our most iconic and historic areas, but also for the Sultanate as a whole.”

The project will blend traditional Omani heritage and aesthetics with a vibrant and modern touch, enhancing the surrounding historical area of Muttrah. The project will not only add enhanced lifestyle benefits for residents and visitors to Oman, but will also create up to 12,000 direct and 7,000 indirect jobs across the areas of hotels, residential, F&B, maintenance and real estate management. With such a varied scope of opportunities, it really makes Mina Sultan Qaboos a compelling investment proposition for local, regional and international investors. It is going to be at the heart of the next era for Muscat and figure significantly in Oman’s tourism industry push.

Another exciting project that will significantly add to the tourism landscape is the development of Oman’s first world-class family water park in Muscat; a key project from the outset of the National CEO Programme (NCP). “People across Oman have been waiting for a family entertainment development such as this and Omran is proud to be working closely on it with the NCP team,” says Al Ghazali. “It is a world-class premiere entertainment destination set to be a leading attraction for visitors to Muscat. The project is set to better establish Oman as a leading visitor destination both regionally and globally.”

Despite the decline in global oil prices, Oman isn’t planning to cut spending on infrastructure projects, especially on those seen as vital to economic diversification. By taking responsibility of developing the Sultanate through the creation and operation of unique tourism and lifestyle developments, Omran attracts leading developers and hospitality brands to the region. Al Ghazali explains, “Omran is seeking to establish and develop long-term relationships with stakeholders and partners to enable economic diversification within Oman, underpinning a sustainable industry which is set apart from the oil sector. This means that turbulence in the oil market will have a decreasing effect on our economy as time goes on. Obviously at the moment the world is weathering the storm of low oil price, but our strategic plans are robust, and we are making the right moves to create economic diversification.”

He adds, “Omran takes a holistic approach to what it does, so in terms of its impact on the bigger picture, developments like Mina Sultan Qaboos will contribute to GDP and further reduce the reliance on oil revenues, so we feel the new strategy will robustly support the evolution of our tourism sector and taking Oman into a more sustainable future. Not only will Omran’s flagship developments like Mina Sultan Qaboos boost visitor numbers, but they will also add long-term benefits to the local communities, through supporting SMEs and developing local talent, but also bolster wider industry growth and development as they provide attractive investment opportunities both locally and internationally, increasing FDI inflow.”

MICE matters

The government has identified meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitons segment (MICE) as a key pillar for future growth, with the opening of the Oman Convention and Exhbition Centre (OCEC) in Agust 2016 expected to provide a major boost to this segment. Says Trevor McCartney, general manager of OCEC, “With its enviable location, incredible natural beauty and vibrant culture, the Sultanate has been attracting the attention of organisers of large-scale major events for some time but until now the country has lacked a suitable venue and the appropriate infrastructure to support them. With the construction of the OCEC, the significant government investment in airports, roads, and ports, and with 24 new hotels planned or under construction, Oman is now more than prepared to welcome the international business events’ industry and set to embrace the rich opportunities this will bring.”

Omran 2

A promising tourism segment with the highest economic return, MICE will enable Oman to host major international events. The Ministry of Tourism has established the Oman Convention Bureau (OCB) in April 2016 to manage the services and products related to MICE in in the country. The bureau will be responsible for enhancing the plans and programmes for MICE, and for promoting the various activities undertaken. The objective of the bureau is to support international and local organisations in hosting their events and cater to their requirements.

“The government has recognised the potential of MICE as one of the major pillars of tourism industry in the Sultanate and will depend on it as a secure sustainable resource,” says Khalid Al Zadjali, director of OCB. “One of the most important sub sectors in the tourism industry, MICE contributes almost one third of the annual turnover of tourism industry internationally. The tourism development strategy of Oman has taken this into consideration. OCB was set up in this context to create an environment conducive for the successful growth of MICE industry in Oman.”

He says MICE industry will open up new opportunities in many other sectors and will encourage other industries to come to Oman. “The massive investment being made for various tourism infrastructure development such as new airports, fleet expansion of the national career, international hotel brands and, above all, the iconic Oman Conventional and Exhibition Centre, will boost the MICE industry in Oman. OCB is established by the government in order to support these initiatives with international models to develop the industry”.

OCB will coordinate with all stakeholders including the government and the private sector. “We liaise with the relevant authorities and convince them about the importance of this industry and work together to reap the maximum benefits,” adds Khalid “OCB’s role is to develop everything in a smooth and professional way and to help overcome the challenges.”

He says promoting MICE in Oman is slightly different from the general promotion for tourism industry. We are working to project Oman as an ideal MICE destination. We approach international and regional conference organisers and MICE houses to attract their events to Oman, explaining them how Oman is suitable for their plans and clients. There are MICE houses who are specialised in organising events, especially for the corporate houses from industries like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, manufacturing, health etc. We are focusing mainly on three markets: Europe, GCC and India. We also coordinate it with their local partners here in Oman. Our other responsibilities include working with government authorities to facilitate smooth operations and build relations in order to attract businesses. In the private sector, we work with hoteliers, tour operators and other stakeholders.”

Khalid discloses that after starting its operations, OCB has managed to attract two conference and one big meeting to Oman, from India and Dubai. “The major task for OCB is to liaise between the government and the different stakeholders in private sector as well as promoting Oman internationally by approaching the right people. One of our strategies to develop MICE in Oman is to be active in international associations like International Congress and Convention Association. From 2015 onwards, we are trying to be very active. Last year, we attended its annual meeting. We will hold the first ME chapter meeting of ICCA in Oman by end of September this year. It will be held at OCEC, Muscat.”

OCEC to lead the way 

OCEC, the most iconic MICE destination and the centrepiece of the government’s business development programme, will open it exhibition halls to the public in 2016. “We are really excited at the opportunities that the new facility will present, as well as the fact that it represents the initial step of the first phase of our 7.4 million square metre Madinat Al Irfan Urban Centre mixed use development,” says Al Ghazali. “Opening the OCEC will enable Oman to offer business visitors the best international standards of conference facilities, supporting the MICE industry’s development in the Sultanate. Its strategic location in proximity to Muscat International Airport means we’ve started the foundation for a long-term asset for Oman that will also open new horizons for local businesses and SMEs in Oman.”

OMRAN

He explains that the first phase of the OCEC is set to be ready during September 2016. Package one, which comprises the initial site preparation and enabling work for the project, began in 2012 and is now complete. Following that, works on package two which consists of the exhibition centre, car park, and the energy centre (district cooling plant), began in July 2013.

The wider development, which is set to be complete by 2017, will house the convention and banqueting facilities, including: 3,200 seat tiered theatre; 20 meeting rooms capable of seating 50-360 delegates; a ballroom which can host 1,026 people; a 456 seat auditorium; a food court. In addition to the full complex will include a five-star Marriot Hotel and a four-star Crown Plaza Hotel.

A socio-economic impact assessment report on the OCEC conducted by Booz & Co projected that OCEC will generate RO295mn in local spending and estimated that the venue will create direct and indirect jobs and contribute to the national economy by 2030. The study also included that by 2030 the OCEC will contribute RO130-150mn to GDP, 30 per cent of this amount from tourism revenues.

McCartney corroborates saying that OCEC is set to establish the Sultanate as a major hub for the highly lucrative business events industry. “Our aim during our inaugural year, starting October 2016, is to establish the OCEC’s presence as one of the world’s most exciting business tourism destinations, hosting events that support sectors targeted in Vision 2040 including health, tourism, IT, transport and logistics, food, energy, manufacturing, fisheries and environment. In our first twelve months of operation, we expect to attract in excess of 230,000 visitors extending to over 600,000 annually thereafter. Our timeline of August 15, 2016 will start with internal test events to ensure full readiness to bring the world to Oman. Our roster of events starts with the Oman’s leading infrastructure exhibition ‘Infra Oman’ from October 10 to 12, 2016”

A strong supporter of Oman’s home-grown exhibition industry, the OCEC is keen to increase this national asset’s global presence and ensure it gains the international market share it deserves. “The industry itself has a keen understanding of the benefits the OCEC will bring and has shown enormous enthusiasm to work with us, as is witnessed by the myriad of top local events that are already firmly inked in our calendar, and by our agreements with leading local organisers,” adds McCartney. “Beyond the OCEC itself, and even in our first year, we aim to make a positive impact on Oman’s burgeoning enterprise culture, stimulating a multitude of opportunities for SMEs particularly in areas such as retail, catering services, maintenance operations, travel, car and equipment hire, marketing services, transport, IT, courier services, legal services etc. In fact, we have been working closely with many Omani SME owners, presenting our vision and preparing them for our requirements.”

In its inaugural year, OCEC will have a strong focus on developing Oman’s home-grown exhibition industry and will be proudly hosting, amongst others, Muscat International Book Fair 2017, ITC show COMEX; the Global Higher Education Exhibition (GHEDEX); environmental expo Eco Expo; facility management expo OMFC; education fair EduTrac Oman; construction expo Infra Oman; and plastic and petrochemicals show OmanPlast.

Says McCartney, “We will also be hosting niche events such as IGN Convention, a major gaming event appealing to Oman’s young demographic, which also offers opportunities for Oman’s IT and telecoms industry, as well as technology experts from local universities, video game developers, and representatives from industries interested in gaming for training such as health and education. Moreover, our first year will see the OCEC host a variety of events in its ten state-of-the-art versatile Hospitality Suites accommodating 25 to 100 delegates. Their specially tailored full and half day packages are already attracting substantial interest from domestic and regional companies and government organisations”.

In the global spotlight

Since 2010, the OCEC business development team has been successfully promoting OCEC to overseas markets, concentrating on those that will deliver events aligned with the Oman Vision 2040. “We have been focusing on European markets and we are currently also targeting regional clients. We have also focused on destinations with air connectivity to Muscat with Oman Air destinations surpassing 45”, adds McCartney.

Khalid also informs that OCB and OCEC have a joint strategy and have a list of activities to do together. “Our aim is to host exhibitions which are noted internationally. We have jointly done some marketing campaigns and workshops in Europe.”

These efforts have included international roadshows and participation in leading industry exhibitions, such as: IBTM World Barcelona, IMEX Frankfurt and IBTM Arabia/India. “We also took advantage of the Sultanate’s impressive Milan Expo 2015 pavilion to present Oman’s wide-ranging tourism and business opportunities. In recent months, we have had a regional focus in our promotional efforts,” says McCartney.

OCEC has also developed an important strategic partnership with the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) to educate and develop the business meetings industry supply chain in readiness for the opening of our Centre. It has also worked with industry associations including the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA), The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), and the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC).

As Cashio Vettom, general manager, Khimji’s House of Travel, explains because of its natural beauty and charm, Oman presents itself as an extremely attractive proposition to the international traveller. He feels OCEC is at the very heart of Oman’s offer targeting MICE. Talking about promoting Oman as an international wedding destination he avers, “Destination weddings are normally outdoor events, and Oman, with its pristine beaches and natural landscapes is an ideal destination for weddings in the winter. We have seen a positive growth in the number of weddings happening in Oman. A great destination is one that is complete in all respects from meeting the expectations of a visitor to the country. Oman is making great strides toward meeting this goal.”

Boosting hospitality services

The rising number of internationally accredited hotels and beachside resorts is also testament to the sector’s growing success. Currently there are over 16,000 hotel rooms in Oman to which another 2,000 new ones will be added by the end of 2016. Maitha informs that the number of total hotel rooms went up from less than 13,000 at the end of 2014 to over 16,000 by the end of 2015. And during the first quarter of 2016, initial approvals were given to 41 hotels and 64 hotel apartments, which are expected to provide up to 5,000 additional rooms by the end of the year. In addition, the hospitality industry will receive capacity boost through the opening of three new hotels by Omran in 2017/18, providing more than 900 additional rooms. The hotels include the five-star W hotel currently under construction alongside the expansion of the Royal Opera House in the heart of the capital, as well as the five-star JW Marriott and four-star Crowne Plaza located at Madinat Al Irfan Urban Centre. The opening of both JW Marriot and Crowne Plaza next year will add another dimension to the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Also enhancing the growth of tourism sector in the Sultanate in a big way are major tourism projects in the private sector, which are in different stages of development and planning. There are several five-star resorts to be opened this year. Kempinski and Fairmont will open their first properties in Muscat this year – near the Almouj golf course and Wave development on the waterfront. Additionally, a refurbished Sheraton is scheduled to re-open in Muscat’s central business district.

Other than these developments for 2016, plans are well underway for a Louis Vuitton property. Salalah Beach resort, the Saraya Bandar Jissah project in Muscat, comprising two hotels with a combined capacity of 326 rooms, and the Wave project with four hotels, upscale residential units, 18-hole golf course and recreational facilities, a marina and a commercial centre are all expected to give the much needed push to tourism development. In the Wilayat of Sur, plans are afoot to build a high-end resort with hotels offering 600 rooms, residential units, shops and restaurants. Another large scale venture – Omagine Tourism Project – in Seeb is also reaching construction phase and will offer two hotels, residential units, a marina, shops and restaurants, along with recreational facilities.

Says Darren Darwin, general manager, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, the highest five-star resort in the Middle East and amongst the highest in the world, “Omani hospitality venues, tourism institutions and travel groups are all collaborating to increase the accessibility of natural attractions, the availability of hotels across the country and improving rest areas, tourist facilities and the national supply chain, in order to support a sustainable rise in visitation. “In an economy traditionally dominated by hydrocarbons, the development of a vibrant and sustainable tourism industry will support the continued growth of Oman as well as create new openings for public and private sector growth,” he avers.

Darren Darwin - General Manager Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar (high res).JPG

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar puts travellers in touch with the local culture, history and landscape with unique experiences including mountaintop sunrise yoga and stargazing beneath a blanket of remote night sky. Darwin adds, “We will target the adventurous with the many hiker’s trails on offer, whilst a variety of climbing routes allow guests to explore the Hajar mountain range, whether it’s by foot, using ropes and harnesses or with a via ferrata, a steel cable which runs along the mountainside of the resort. Those looking for an adrenaline experience can explore the region via mountain bike, abseil off a vertical drop or try their hand at the art of archery. The resort also makes for a great training ground for budding athletes due to its high elevation”. Furthermore, the high altitude of the mountain guarantees the resort enjoys cool temperatures throughout the summer, allowing guests to escape the desert heat that consumes the rest of the GCC.

However, as Cashio observes, hospitality is a broad term and covers each and every aspect that a tourist encounters. “It is not limited to only certain aspects like ‘guest experience’, while staying at a certain hotel. Good hospitality is ensuring that the customer has the positive experience from the moment he lands in the country until the point of departure. One of the key ingredients of hospitality is a warm and welcoming people and there is no doubt that this aspect the people of Oman have in abundance. What remains is infrastructure and this is a systematic and ongoing process which goes hand in hand with the execution of the strategy”.

He adds, “Tourism is all about providing travellers with an authentic and unique experience of the destination. Travellers go to distant lands in search of this authenticity and often come back looking for it again. Oman has many unique attractions that can be show-cased to the tourist and our company is always “tailor-making” these itineraries and experiences to attract newer and repeat guests”.

Investment opportunities
Omran has outlined $1bn investment and business opportunities in Madinat Al Irfan and Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront. Says Al Ghazzali, “Through the delivery of world-class projects, Omran provides long-term investment opportunities that offer secure and sustainable financial returns. It drives the investment, growth and development of major tourism, urban and mixed-use projects in the Sultanate. Madinat Al Irfan and Mina Sultan Qaboos are two projects that attract investment for social as well as economic benefits of Oman to build a secure and sustainable future for Omanis in a strong local market.”

Investment opportunities within Madinat Al Irfan include: commercial; residential; shopping malls; retail; hotels; health facilities; educational facilities; cultural facilities; recreational facilities and civic facilities. By 2050, Madinat Al Irfan is expected to contribute RO1,690mn to Oman’s GDP and create close to 100,000 jobs.

Mina Sultan Qaboos development will offer investment opportunities in underlying assets such as joint venture (JV) investment opportunities in the retail and entertainment sector as well as JV investment in hotels in the waterfront and outright acquisition of a range of four and five star hotels from wellness spas to business hotels. There will be additional JV investment opportunities within the following business units: property finance; facilities management; landscape and cleaning; insurance; security; waste removal; cleaning and property management and leasing.

Al Ghazzali informs that a significant number of local, regional and foreign investors have enquired and registered their interest about the projects. “The positive response has really highlighted the varied opportunities the developments offer, and as such, the interested investors have been diverse. By taking responsibility of developing the Sultanate through the creation and operation of unique tourism and lifestyle developments, Omran attracts leading developers and hospitality brands to the region. The objective is to build a prosperous future for the country- and is focused on establishing long-term relationships with stakeholders and partners to enable economic diversification within Oman. We currently partner with world renowned brands and we have a long-term pipeline of upcoming projects which will provide further investment opportunities.”

With increased visitor numbers, the investment into the travel and tourism sector is expected to increase. Omran expects by 2026 this is set to total RO450.4mn, which will represent four per cent of total investment within Oman. Omran will capitialise on these figures through the launch of the diverse major projects in the pipeline such as Mina Sultan Qaboos, Madinat Al Irfan, Ras Al Hass, Al Baleed Resort and more. The extensive opportunities connected to these developments also give a robust profitable outlook.

Cruising ahead

However, there is no denying the fact that the cascading effect of the falling price of oil has been felt by every line of business and the tourism and hospitality sector is no exception to this. Says Cashio, “outbound travel and holidays in particular has seen a greater impact due to tightening of purse strings not only from individual travellers but also by corporate houses. There is a silver lining behind every dark cloud and budget hotels and low cost carriers have seen a growing demand”.

He feels that since tourism is not an overnight phenomenon, it takes time and investment to have the critical numbers that make a difference to the inflow of tourism revenue into the economy.” Two of the key pillars of any tourism strategy are professional expertise and comprehensive infrastructure. We are confident that the tourism strategy that lays out the way ahead also looks into the challenges that can be faced and solutions to be found by a growing destination”.

Tourism emerges as one of the attractive alternatives for Oman, while thinking on the probable alternatives that could fuel the economic growth in the post-oil-based Omani economy. However, as Darwin observes it will be a challenge to ensure a steady increase in this sector. But government funding combined with international campaigns should pay off in the long run. Political stability, a peaceful and tolerant culture and beautiful landscapes rich in history bode well for the future of Oman’s tourism sector.


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