The Oman Ministry of Tourism has announced plans to more than double its number of international visitors over the next two decades as part of its new national 2040 Tourism Strategy. By 2040, it aims to attract more than five million international visitors, in addition to same-day visitors and domestic tourists, making tourism one of the most significant income generators in the Sultanate, at just over 6 per cent of annual GDP.
In an interview with TTN, director general of Tourism Promotion Salim Al Mamari, says: 'Currently we have 16,691 hotel rooms in Oman, and we expect to add 2,000 new rooms to this number by the end of 2016. We have seen significant growth in visitor numbers, with a 17.7 per cent increase in tourists in 2015, and over 2.4 million people visiting the Sultanate from around the world, and hope to increase this number in 2016.'
The Ministry revealed that its growth strategy for the tourism sector is going to be based upon a cluster approach that will create a series of unique tourism experiences in different areas of Oman, reflecting local culture and heritage.
These clusters, 10 in number, will be developed over the next 10 to 15 years to become mini destinations in their own right. Based around the coastal experience of Musandam; Hajar Mountains; Frankincense Trail in Salalah; culture in Muscat; and the deserts, the clusters will have a mix of quality accommodation and varied experiences.
Under the new strategy the tourism sector is predicted to employ more than 500,000 people by 2040, with an estimated 75 per cent of those being Omani nationals.
Meanwhile, tourism infrastructure across Oman is being rapidly enhanced with the planned opening in the near future of the new Muscat International Airport that will initially have a capacity of 12 million visitors a year with future expansion to accommodate up to 48 million in the future.
'There are several five-star resorts to be opened this year, including the Anantara in Jebel Akhdar and Salalah. Kempinski and Fairmont will open their first properties in Muscat this year – near the Almouj golf course and Wave development on the waterfront. Additionally, a refurbished Sheraton is scheduled to re-open in Muscat’s central business district. Other than these developments for 2016, construction is well underway in Muscat for Oman’s first W and Westin hotel, as well as plans for a Louis Vuitton property.'
The Khareef season is usually very popular for Oman, as Salalah and the southern part of Oman present cooler temperatures than the rest of the Gulf due to the monsoon. 'We are also promoting Oman as a year-round destination for tourists – with water sports, mountain escapades and luxury hotels included in a new summer campaign we have designed for visitors from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Muscat and Ras Al Hadd near Sur, Al Jabal Al Akhdar and Jabal Shams are among the varied destinations offered in the packages.
'Our most important market remains the GCC – specifically the UAE and Saudi Arabia due to proximity. However, we look to target India and China as new markets as they have expressed interest in visiting the Sultanate,' says Al Mamari.
'Currently, we see a lot of tourists interested in boat trips and turtle watching along the east coast (Sur), hiking and camping in Al Jabal Al Akhdar and diving in Masira Island. Muscat is more for the culture and heritage of Oman, with the Royal Opera House and the national museum as some of the main attractions. Jebel Shams and Al Jabal Al Akhdar are popular for mountain retreats.
'This year, we hope to target business travellers and promote Mice tourism with the opening of Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre in Muscat later in 2016, near the InterContinental hotel,' concludes Al Mamari.
Budget airline named Salam Air
Muscat National Development and Investment Company (ASAAS) announced that the country’s first budget airline will fly under the brand name ‘Salam Air’. Paying homage to Oman’s deeply rooted culture and long-standing history as an ambassador of peace, the name, which is derived from the Arabic greeting, is a result of a nationwide public poll conducted on the online social networking platform, Twitter and ASAAS’ corporate website.
“From the get-go, we were adamant about involving the general public in the process,” explained CEO, Eng. Khalid bin Hilal Al Yahmadi. A call for suggested names was announced on Twitter that received an overwhelming response in a short span of time. After internal discussions with board members and key government entities, eight names were shortlisted and a public poll was conducted that received close to 3,000 responses.
“While we understand that this is an unconventional way of naming an airline, we believe that integrating new modes of communication and outreach is the way of the future,” Eng. Al Yahmadi said. “This is also a clear reflection of the way we do business. We are transparent and our approach is to be part and parcel of the community with all of our multi-industry projects.”
ASAAS has identified tourism as a core sector that promotes economic diversification and is adopting an integrated approach that covers its entire supply chain, which includes transportation. With air traffic demand expected to grow by 40 per cent by 2019, Salam Air, Oman’s first low-cost carrier, is anticipated to fuel economic growth by providing access to economical and efficient means of transport and further advance the aviation sector in Oman.
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