Strategic plan positions Oman as year-round hot spot

Oman is growing in popularity as a tourist destination

OMAN’S Ministry of Tourism shared its strategic plans and new focus areas for 2012 that aim to complement the latest honour given to the country’s capital Muscat, which was selected as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2012. One of the main goals of this year’s tourism programme is to present Oman as a year-round destination by highlighting events such as the Salalah Khareef Festival. The Ministry of Tourism aims to increase the GDP contribution of tourism from two per cent in 2011 to around 3.5 per cent in 2015 and is eyeing a 10 per cent growth for the sector in 2012.

The Sultanate also took home top honours including the ‘20 Top Tourist Destinations in the World’ in the latest edition of the ‘National Geographic’ magazine – the only Arab country to figure in the elite list.

“These recent recognitions affirm the strong global interest in Muscat and Oman in general as a leisure, lifestyle and business destination. We take great pride in the diversity of our country’s touristic attractions throughout different seasons, which include scenic spots, adventure destinations and ecotourism packages. We expect 2012 to be a turning point in our efforts to take the performance of our tourism sector to the next level,” said Haitham Mohammed Ghasani, director of Tourism Promotion, Oman Ministry of Tourism.

The ministry also expects the Sultanate’s growing number of world-class meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) facilities to come under the spotlight with the new Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre project, valued at $1.8 billion. When completed in 2015, the two million sq-m facility will include a 3,200 seat auditorium, four hotels with a total of 1000 rooms, a 192,000-sq-m shopping mall and 200 serviced apartments, 85,000 sq m of office space and 25,000 sq m of exhibition space, among other amenities.

The Ministry expects the Mice segment to perfectly complement Oman’s growing appeal as a tourism destination for visitors from around the world. In 2011, Oman attracted 1.6 million tourists, while this year the country is targeting to attract around two million foreign tourists. The GCC market was a major contributor to Oman tourism last year, with overall growth of 26 per cent, and the number of visitors from UAE growing 30 per cent. Revenue from tourism last year accounted for 2.6 per cent of Oman’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“We are keen to capitalise on the potential benefits of a thriving Mice segment to further foster the growth of Oman’s tourism industry. A number of strategic measures are currently being undertaken to build Oman’s Mice sector offerings, including the construction of world-class exhibition and conference venues. The added value that Oman offers the Mice segment when compared to other destinations is our unique culture and heritage” said Al Ghasani.

The Sultanate of Oman recently announced changes to its visa arrangements to lure more tourists. The new arrangements include an OMR 5 ($12.9) fee for a single entry tourism visa (Group 1 countries) for up to 10 days, and OMR 20 ($51.9) for a single entry for up to a month. Cruise arrival visas are free up to 48 hours or OMR 5 for multiple visits.