Destination Oman

While forever true to its culture and exceptional
authenticity, the traditionally luxury destination of
Oman is exploring the lucrative mid-market segment.
Panayiotis Markides investigates.

As a destination steeped in natural beauty that stretches from the greens of Salalah to the
rugged Al Hajar mountains, Oman’s capacity to surprise and delight its visitors is ceaseless.

Director, Hud Hud Travels, Eric Walters aptly described the Sultanate: “Its strengths lie in being able to offer guests a genuine experience of Arabia and Islam in a friendly
country with history that goes back 3,000 years.”

ATM2020

Thus, with a tremendous backdrop in place – combined with a collective vision to diversify and grow, it seems only natural that Oman would tap into these assets to develop its tourism product. This drive towards such development was noted by marketing director, Muriya, Bahaa Hefzallah who said: “Oman has earmarked tourism as a vital sector for growth, bolstering economic diversification efforts, increasing demand for goods and services.”

This clear tourism-driven ambition was further elaborated upon by general manager, Millennium Resort Mussanah, Maurice de Rooij who told TTG: “Under the government’s Vision 2020 plan, Oman is preparing to welcome 12 million visitors annually by 2020.”

This marks a higher amount than its 2.2 million visitors in 2013. He also added that it is aiming to up the total room count to 20,000 units by then.

With such a surge in visitors expected, the Sultanate’s tourism industry has been encouraged to address all optionson the table. Stakeholders have thus explored the
concept of developing Oman’s mid-market sector, while others are steadfast in their vision to draw in visitors on the promise of an authentic Omani experience, an aspect which has been successful due to the government’s Omanisation programme.

LOCAL FLAVOUR

The sheer significance of the Omanisation programme was clarified by CEO, Omran, Wael Al Lawati who told TTG: “By employing local talent, not only do we create more job opportunities for the Omani population in one of the fastest growing sectors in the Sultanate, but we also add an authentic local touch to the experience that visitors enjoy
when visiting the country.”

He added that Omanisation furthers the Sultanate’s aim to become self-reliant in regards to human resources, something the whole sector is working towards.

Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC), slated to open in early 2016, already claims 55 per cent of its team members as Omani nationals. Moreover, OCEC’s general manager, Trevor McCartney, has indicated that the centre is actively recruiting.

Hospitality providers have likewise displayed a firm commitment to the recruitment and training of local talent. Communications coordinator, Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Marwan Al Zadjali remarked that the property is investing in Omani talent having set up Al Bustan Palace Academy, which trains locals and prepares them for a career in the hospitality industry.

General manager, Salalah Rotana Resort, Claudio Melli similarly stressed Rotana’s drive to hire local talent through Rotana’s ‘Duroob’ programme, which is in place across the company’s properties spanning the Gulf.

The recruitment of local talent is seen by many as a key to unlocking the door of authenticity, as vice president – Oman, Middle East and Indian Ocean, Six Senses Hotels
Resorts Spas, John Philipson indicated: “We believe that having Omanis as part of the team will be a great asset since they know the culture, the habit and the history of
the place.”

The Wave, Muscat, according to vice president of sales and marketing, David Stafford adds sustainability to the mix, by supporting local fishing. Another landmark development in the Sultanate, Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, is likewise conscientious in its work to support the local community.

Director of communications, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, Rebecca Platt highlighted to TTG that the resort features an Omani Heritage Village where local
Omani traders sell locally made items.

MIDSCALE APPEAL

Raising the bar of authenticity through such initiatives is undoubtedly expected to help fuel the growth of arrival numbers to the Sultanate. And so, the industry has had to review its accommodation options and capabilities.

As a result, Oman, with its well-developed luxury segment, is now turning its gaze towards the mid-market.

Al Lawati highlighted that Omran’s plans most certainly include the mid-market sector, so as to cater to the interests of a broader range of tourists. He described it as vital to the growth of the tourism sector within the country.

He revealed that there are plans ahead to meet this end, not just in the capital, but also in rural areas, given the numerous attractions of the destination.

Picking up on the current need for rural accommodation, Walters added: “There is very little coming up outside Muscat, which is where the demand is.”

Addressing this need for a mix of mid- and upper-tier options, area director of sales and marketing, InterContinental Hotels Group Oman (IHG Oman), Dorien Smit also told TTG: “Oman is indeed a luxury destination due to its beauty and natural attractions. This does not only attract high-end clientele. Oman has many midscale hotels as well.” She added that IHG Oman recently opened Holiday Inn Muscat al Seeb which houses 185 rooms.
Hefzallah commented that Muriya too is exploring the mid-market, as it represents the market’s largest segment, both locally and internationally, noting the benefits it has brought to Salalah, which witnessed a 150 per cent increase in footfall this year.

Regional director – UAE, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Marc Descrozaille stated the growth potential and rising market share that the sector offers: “While in the past the luxury segment was seen as a beacon of growth and success, now it is equally important to look at each market individually and decide how you can adapt your own offering to meet future demand.”

With a well-established luxury offering, Oman is making the most of its best asset – its people – to provide travellers with a unique experience. Extending this welcome to a broader range and higher density of visitors, the Sultanate is treading gently into new, exciting waters.