Equipped with breath-taking natural surroundings and captivating culture, the Sultanate of Oman is making newsworthy advancements across its admirable tourism offering, intending to represent a beacon of positivity for the region. Aleksandra Wood reports.
Regarded as one of the safest destinations in the GCC, Oman has secured its position as a regional favourite among travellers seeking distinctive experiences, exceptional lodging facilities and value for money. The country is a year-round destination, providing adventurers with the options of desert, beach and mountain experiences, accompanied by traditional sight-seeing escapades as well as awe-inspiring historic and archeological sites.
“Oman is a fantastic destination with responsible eco, cultural and heritage attractions,” general manager, Millennium Resort Mussanah, Dermot Birchall elucidated. “The Sultanate is a safe destination, which is an important consideration for visitors from all countries, mainly from Europe, and has the potential to provide travellers with opportunities to create lasting memories.”
Embracing an ever-growing number of travellers each year, in May alone the country welcomed a total of 1.4 million arrivals, according to the National Centre for Statistics, with GCC nationals emerging as top visitors at 514,024 arrivals, India coming in second place with 149,251, followed by the German market with 131,165, the UK with 92,970 and Italy with 56,141 arrivals.
Tourism entities are excited to have detected new emerging source markets as the diversification of Oman’s tourism industry continues. Millennium Resort Mussanah recently witnessed a surge in Russian, Turkish and Chinese travellers, which the resort hopes to further capitalise on in the approaching months.
Meanwhile, Salalah Rotana Resort continues to welcome guests from the neighbouring GCC countries – mainly from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain – during the country’s monsoon season (Khareef season), which occurs between the months of June and September.
General manager, Salalah Rotana Resort, Hossam Kamal shared: “2018 has been a relatively stable year for our operations. Oman enjoys safety and security, and this has resulted in a positive general tourism outlook for our region.”
A rise in the number of tourists, enhanced connectivity to new European destinations such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as the arrival of new hotel chains to its tourism industry are all indicative of an evolving industry.
Much of the success of Oman’s tourism industry can be accredited to its productive government, which has established the Oman Ministry of Tourism’s Vision 2040 initiative, aiming to stimulate over 11 million international and domestic tourists by the year 2040.
A wave of unfaltering efforts by the Ministry has swept the nation, as general manager of the recently opened Millennium Resort Salalah, Elias El-Khoury revealed to TTG: “The tourism industry in Oman is growing significantly, with the emphasis concentrated on boosting non-oil exports. The government is focusing on the development of dedicated tourism clusters in Muscat and Musandam as destinations, the Al Hajjar Mountains, the Frankincense Trail in Salalah and multiple desert areas.”
El-Khoury further shared that the Ministry has announced major plans for the increase of employment figures, with 500,000 employees expected to be added to the tourism sector. This will have a positive impact on the private sector’s objective of reinforcing the recruitment of more Omani talent within its departments, known as the ‘Omanisation’ initiative. Several marketing campaigns have also been rolled out by the Ministry, aimed at target markets such as France, the UK, Russia, China and India.
Adding to this, recent updates on visa policies are bound to drive the progression of tourism in Oman. Kamal of Salalah Rotana Resort shed light on this: “The government recently launched an e-visa service, allowing tourists to conveniently apply for visas online. Visa processing is the first encounter of a traveller to a country and makes the first impression. Implementing the e-visa process is an indication of the government’s effort to embrace seamless travel and is a welcomed development.”
A reduced cost in visa fees was also implemented, and in line with this, a visa-on-arrival policy was announced for Russian, Chinese and Iranian nationals.
Kamal further noted: “Having the right strategy is one thing, but actively promoting the destination is another. With active participation in major regional and international travel trade shows, the government utilises these opportunities to further raise awareness on the destination. All these efforts combined play a crucial role in amplifying the destination’s attractiveness and fostering visitor influx.”
TIME FOR EVOLUTION
In a bid to maintain its acquired success, Oman has been busy investing in and working on its infrastructure, with the opening of the new Muscat International Airport as the main headliner, on which Birchall of Millennium Resort Mussanah elaborated: “The travel and tourism sector has welcomed this gateway project as one of the keystones to the future of Omani tourism development. The new airport has the capacity to operate 40 flights per hour with 86 check-in counters, 40 gates and 29 aircraft stands with jet-bridges, as well as a new control tower.”
In light of this ground-breaking development, Oman’s national carrier, Oman Air, is making moves to expand its network, as well as its fleet, in order to operate 62 aircrafts to around 60 destinations worldwide. New routes are currently being opened to Turkey and Russia, strengthening bilateral relations between the countries and reinforcing tourism prospects.
With this and the recent e-visa introduction in mind, tourism influx is expected to be no less than bountiful in the approaching years.
“To accommodate the predicted influx, a number of major hotel chains recently announced properties in Muscat, driving the 12 per cent CAGR over the next three years from 10,924 rooms in 2017 to 16,866 keys by 2021,” director of sales and marketing, Ramada Qurum Beach Hotel, Tawfiq Jan Al Balushi disclosed.
Operating hotels, such as the Salalah Rotana Resort, are staying one step ahead of this, with the property having expanded its room inventory to include an additional 22 keys, bringing the total count to 422 keys and making it the largest resort in the Sultanate.
Regional connectivity has not been overlooked, with the opening of the Al Batinah Expressway in May significantly improving access to and from the UAE and other Gulf countries. The new expressway in Muscat represents the largest road project in the history of the Sultanate at approximately 256 kilometres in length, and features eight lanes and 17 overhead bridges. It connects the Muscat Expressway at Halban to the UAE border at Khamat Malaha.
And speaking of thriving cities in Oman, Salalah does not fall short when it comes to newsworthy developments, as pointed out by Salalah Rotana Resort’s Kamal: “Our city has embraced the new Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, which is a modern sports facility offering football, basketball and handball courts, swimming pools and much more. With such a facility, Salalah has the potential to be the country’s sports destination of choice. This is an exciting development for the city.”
Adding to this, visitors to this spectacular city can enjoy the recently inaugurated Hawana Aqua Park – the first of its kind for the country – which is set to collaborate with hospitality entities to present unparalleled entertainment packages for guests.
Oman has perfectly perpetuated tranquillity and stability throughout the years, however, this forging destination is far from dormant. Its prevailing government strategies, substantial developments and its graceful offering combine to make for a salient tourism destination.