It’s all down to the last detail in Oman’s quest to become a world-class tourism player. Aleksandra Wood dives into the many unexpected developments in unique travel segments that are currently taking place in the prospering Sultanate.
SUCCESS IN NUMBERS
Ecological economist, Tim Jackson, once said: “It is the accuracy and detail inherent in crafted goods that endows them with lasting value.” The interpretation of this inspiring quote can be applied to the touristic strategy of the Sultanate of Oman; details matter in the construction of a thriving destination.
Oman is focusing on advancing its touristic offering sector by sector, with special projects and developments coming to fruition across the country.
“Oman’s tourism industry appears to be closely linked to the country’s long-term vision for economic growth and development, particularly in the wake of a national diversification programme,” general manager, Ramee Guest Line Hotel – Qurum, Muscat, Kunwardeeep Singh opined. “Oman is fortunate to be blessed with a rich history and numerous natural and cultural assets, and the Government of Oman is welcoming partnerships to develop the country’s tourism economy even further in 2020.”
Recent reports by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) confirmed that the Sultanate welcomed more than 1.2 million arrivals between January and April 2019, with a noteworthy 34.3 per cent increase in inbound visitors during the month of April, in comparison to the same month the previous year. Notably, the GCC market emerged among the top five source markets for Oman, followed by India, the UK and Germany.
Further to this, market ranks are expected to shift due to the Ministry of Tourism’s easing of travel visa policies in the last few months for tourists from Russia, China and India, amongst others.
Singh shared: “These visitors are now either arriving or transiting through a renovated world-class hub, Muscat International Airport, [which has] the capacity to handle 20 million passengers a year, and our goal would be to tap into these markets.”
According to Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, the Salalah Khareef Festival in the Dhofar Governorate rounded up a significant increase in arrivals this year and has therefore further contributed to the Sultanate firmly establishing its position on the global tourism map. Tourist arrivals to the Governorate reached 631,582 between June 20 and August 16, 2019. Director of promotion and marketing department, Oman Ministry of Tourism, Saleh bin Ali Al Khaifi commented: “The Dhofar Governorate’s unique nature and cool weather make it a perfect summer destination, apart from its many historical attractions and diverse recreational activities.
“We are keen to organise a series of promotional tours to shed light on exclusive offers and tourist activities that are specifically designed for visitors seeking to escape the sweltering summer heat that is experienced in various GCC countries,” he added.
ALL IN THE DETAILS
In 2016, Oman launched its nationwide diversification programme – Tanfeedh – and three years later, the country is finally enjoying the fruits of its labour.
The programme has played a pivotal role in several of Oman’s previously unexplored tourism segments that are slowly but surely rising to prominence.
Proving that Oman’s leisure attractions are a force to be reckoned with, the leisure travel segment made up an estimated 70 per cent of the direct tourism GDP and is expected to grow 8.1 per cent to top $2.6 billion, according to data.
“Comparatively, business spending accounted for only 30 per cent of the direct GDP from the tourism sector, thereby emphasising Oman’s leisure tourism potential,” Singh commented.
Also a new champion on the block is cruise tourism, with the Sultanate having witnessed a whopping 172,000 cruise tourists arrive from January to April 2019. The month of April, in particular, saw a notable spike in cruise visitors, with a 53.7 per cent jump on the previous year and a total of 22,000 visitors.
Under the Tanfeedh plans, further advancements are underway to target even the most niche segments of Oman’s multi-faceted industry, including the introduction of extreme sports events. The initial elements of this initiative involve four private projects: Oman X, Hot Air Ballooning, Majlis Al Jinn and Adventure Musandam. Oman X, a company dedicated to the promotion of extreme sports in the Sultanate, will target local and international tourists to help make it one of the top sports and adventure destinations in the world. Majlis Al Jinn cave complex in the North Sharqiyah Governorate is considered to be among the 10 biggest cave complexes in the world, prompting the Ministry of Tourism to develop it as a heritage and tourism site, while Musandam Adventure’s trekking paths are currently in the final stages of design, with the implementation of trekking activities expected by the end of 2019.
Oman’s Ministry of Tourism made headlines in May when its Minister of Tourism, HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mshrazi, inked a usufruct agreement with Bin Sheikh Holding Company for a lineup of ground-breaking projects, including the development of Omani heritage markets, hotel facilities, a cultural and commercial centre, restaurants, cafes and a harbour.
Meanwhile, Singh revealed exclusively to TTG: “The Sultanate aspires to create a port on the Arabian Sea, connected to the other countries of the Gulf, creating an economic and tourist megalopolis by 2040. This would majorly increase the number of hotel establishments and other facilities required by tourists too.”
Lastly, Oman is set to transform into a hotspot for year-round events – 29 in total – aiming to provide a wide range of entertainment and leisure options to tourists from overseas. These will include 12 sport and 17 non-sporting events. Last year, 20 out of the targeted 29 events took place, a few of which included the Century Ride, the Muscat Marathon, Muscat Eat and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc competitive cycling event.
“These are great initiatives by the government for the visitors who come here for leisure and will therefore help to have a stable flow of tourists,” Singh commented.
“Oman is home to an untapped wealth of opportunities, so it is commendable that the Ministry of Tourism has started to think along those lines. I think all tourism operators here are very optimistic and the tourism sector is set to amplify,” Singh concluded.
Year after year, Oman is opening itself up to the possibilities of boosting international tourism, with overall annual visitors having doubled since 2010. As Omanis further delve into the vast potential of the country’s tourism industry, substantial investments, unique and singular projects, as well as the establishment of various niche segments within the Sultanate’s Governorates, are guaranteed to shake up the industry and ultimately, build a world-class destination.