Oman is an emerging destination for global tourism. In the eight years since the Ministry of Tourism
’s formation, Oman claims to be the Gulf’s niche destination. The sultanate’s portfolio of high-end resorts and hotels is impressive and growing, but Oman’s tourism strategy also showcases the country’s unique cultural heritage and environmental values. So why is tourism important to the sultanate and what are the sector’s plans?Ahmed Al Mahrizi
took the reins of Oman’s Tourism Ministry in March 2012, previously having served as the sultanate’s Ambassador to France – a source market targeted by Oman’s tourism campaigns and Oman Air since its entry to Paris in October 2009.
“The Ministry’s formative years were used to provide a policy and regulatory framework to nurture private investment, facilitate the delivery of strategic
infrastructure and services, establish ties with key tourism agencies, establish international representation and promote Oman on the world stage. We have taken a managed approach to ensure that we do not reach a point where visitor levels exceed the accommodation supply or jeopardize the quality of visitor experience.”
|Oman’s tourism sector is diversifying and broadening its base away from hospitality as more Omanis invest in the sector, and we need to build on this.|
Ahmed Al Mahrizi,
Minister of Tourism
Oman’s approach to tourism differs to that of most of its neighbors in the Gulf. A year after the Ministry’s formation, a dedicated tourism development, property management and hospitality company (OMRAN) was established under its wing to accelerate the delivery of strategic infrastructure. OMRAN now manages around 10 joint venture projects with a capital value estimated at $1.6 billion. Its most visible is Oman’s Convention and Exhibition Center (completion 2016) that will launch the sultanate into the global business and MICE tourism sector.
The range and diversity of OMRAN’s development profile is impressive, from hotels in Duqm, Oman’s new city on the east coast, to boutique resorts at Salalah and Khasab, to an indulgent eco lodge on the cliff line of Al Jabal Al Akhdar, high in the Hajar Mountains. Through design, scale and setting, these resorts express quality, uniqueness and Oman.
In 2005-06 the government also invested in national carrier Oman Air and underwrote its international expansion to now include over 40 international destinations, with multiple daily services to nearby aviation mega hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.
Other strategic developments have been the establishment of the National Ferry Company in 2009 to provide fast connections between Muscat and Khasab, the major tourism destination on the Musandam Peninsula. As well, the ministry oversees Oman Sail, an ambitious program to make Oman a competitive sailing nation and, in doing so, to build international awareness in Oman through branding and sailing promotions.
On the back of record investment and a strong domestic economy, the Minister says: “We are moving in the right direction but we need to be proactive and innovative to capture the benefits of tourism. Also, we need to better explain the benefits of tourism at large so they see tourism as a value-added activity that can coexist with traditional values. With this understanding in place, benefits will flow to the country.”
The hospitality sector alone accounts for around 3% of Oman’s GDP and has generated over 10,000 jobs, with jobs growing at 6%. When transport and visitor service activities are considered, the numbers are much bigger. The Ministry believes tourism can make a larger contribution to GDP by 2015, made possible by the roll-out of internationally significant tourism attractors including the convention center and a large portfolio of niche 5-star resorts set in 5-star locations, from beaches to the high plateau of Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Oman’s green mountain with its ancient terraced gardens.
To ensure that the tourism benefits are achievable, Minister Al Mahrizi will oversee a strategic review of the tourism sector including the Ministry’s roles, functions and priorities.
He says: “A high level strategic overview is timely, given the changes in global and regional financial settings, changes in tourism distribution systems and travel demand. Oman’s tourism sector is diversifying and broadening its base away from hospitality as more Omanis invest in the sector, and we need to build on this.”