David Graham, CEO talks about the efforts being made by Oman Sail to promote sports tourism in the Sultanate
Oman Sail helped in organising the recently held Al Mouj Muscat Marathon. What are reasons that have encouraged you to get into sports tourism related events?
We have a very competent team at Oman Sail, which has been organising sailing events for the last six to seven years. HE Maitha al Mahrouqi, undersecretary, Ministry of Tourism and chairperson, Oman Sail has been encouraging us to do more for sports tourism in the country. With a team in place and the ongoing drive from the government and the Ministry of Tourism, we looked at what we could do to contribute. I was invited to be a part of the Tanfeedh programme and that acted as a catalyst. At Tanfeedh, we had a small team of people who deliberated on using sporting, MICE and cultural events to promote the country as a tourism destination, because if you get it right, it is a very cost-effective way to promote the country.
How did the idea of helping with the Al Mouj Muscat Marathon germinate and what was Oman Sail’s role in the event?
Muscat Road Runners (MRR) have been running a marathon for the last four years and they had taken the event to a certain level; but since they are a group of volunteers, they were constrained. We spoke to MRR about organising the event in collaboration with them, as we thought we could add value to the event. The MRR did the course with our assistance along with Al Mouj, our sponsor and the Royal Oman Police. Apart from that we took care of the entire logistics of the event.
How has Oman Sail’s experience been with the event?
It was a great experience. Our aim was to have 1,300 runners and we achieved that. One of our priorities was to ensure that the athletes’ experience was an improvement on previous years. We worked hard on the marketing, branding, entry etc. while we leaned on MRR on the technical side. It was a fantastic collaboration, with things working very well. In any event if you go behind the scenes there are roadblocks and hurdles that one needs to overcome. We had all of those issues come to us but we were able to negotiate them and it was a very positive experience.
One of the primary aim of tourism related sporting events in Oman is to contribute economically to the country? How do you ensure that this is achieved?
We look at this as being a part of sports tourism. If you look at the economic model, you see that there are sponsors that want to promote their brand to the runners, the media and beyond. We also get some income from the entry fee and we use volunteers and professionals to run the event. With 1,300 runners and out of that I would say, 85-90 per cent of people are on social media and they are proud that they have reached their personal goal, whether it is running 10 kms, half or a full marathon and they are there promoting it to their friends. We made sure that we had top class photographers, good quality films showcasing the country. About 70 per cent of the runners came into the country to run especially for the event. These people used the national airline, paid visa fee, hired taxis, stayed in hotels, and spent money in restaurants; so there is a very positive economic fallout. We had 105 Omanis running the marathon, which will encourage other Omanis to get into similar sporting events, and this will help in organising more sports tourism events in the country. There is a financial impact – for the country, for organisers like Oman Sail and there is an economic impact from the positive media value that goes out from the runners and organisers.
You were a part of the deliberations in Tanfeedh regarding promoting sports tourism. What were the key points of discussion that came out during the brainstorming?
At Tanfeedh we looked at various sports that can be used to benefit the country. If you take cycling as an example, Oman has the Tour of Oman, which is held every year. This is a professional event, which is promoting the country and it does a fantastic job as cycling is such a well-practiced sport. In an endeavour to promote sporting events which are a rung underneath such major professional events, we will work with sport clubs like MRR by helping them in the logistics and marketing of their events. The idea is to do three to four events to ensure that we have regular fixtures happening in the country.
Then there is the idea of collaborating with the initiatives being taken by the Ministry of Sports in getting Omanis into athletics or sailing. At Tanfeedh it was all about how we could make sporting events impact the country by having more inbound traffic, participants staying longer and spending money in the country. If an event did not hit that criteria then we did not discuss it.
How would you rate Oman’s potential in the field of sports tourism?
Oman has immense potential in the field of sports tourism. When you speak to athletes, cyclists, runners and tri athletes who do the GCC circuit, their preference is Oman. Their preference is Oman because the water is clean, it has a nice temperature, and the roads are interesting. So Oman has huge untapped potential, and that’s the reason why we are working closely with Tanfeedh and the Ministry of Tourism to unlock some of that potential.
Can we expect Oman Sail to conduct more such sporting events in future?
Yes, we intend to organise more such sporting events in future. For example, this year we have invited a group of amateur cyclists to do a test event which will be a one-day event during the Tour of Oman. If this works well and synergistically with the Tour of Oman, then we may have an amateur version of the Tour of Oman. We are helping out with the amateur version.
What have been Oman Sail’s notable achievements?
The big achievement of Oman Sail is what the sailors do. Our youth sailors have been winning in the GCC, while our senior sailors have been sailing overseas and getting themselves qualified for international regattas. What we are also achieving is the commercialism of some of the sporting events. We have got a few diving schools, we have a corporate and personal development division, a charter business and all these are things in which we are commercialising things and making a profit from these services that we offer. So it is a mix of achievements of our sailors and commercialisation.
We are also reigniting the maritime eminence of the country. Oman is surely seen as a sailing nation globally now. We have got world record holders, GCC champions, World Series champions. We have had the Extreme Sailing series, the RC 44, five World championships, two Olympic qualifiers, Louis Vuitton America’s Cup and the list goes on. The spotlight has been on Oman as a sailing destination. We have never missed a day in any of the sailing events that have come to the Sultanate and some of the top sailing athletes have been quoted as saying that ‘Oman is as good as it gets in the globe as a sailing destination.’
Oman Sail was built on three pillars and everything underpinning those three pillars is human development. The three pillars are sports, tourism and commerce. In sports we are trying to get Omanis to rise to the top in sailing; commercially we are trying to lessen our dependence on the government and get some commercial programmes off the ground. In terms of tourism, we showcase what we are doing in the international media thus promoting Oman as a tourist destination; we also bring people inbound into the country and those numbers will treble or quadruple next year. Finally, Omanis are running Oman Sail, helping in human development.