SALALAH is the only corner of Arabia that catches the Indian summer monsoon from July to September every year.
In this ‘Khareef’ season, the Dhofar Governorate is transformed into a lush green land with waterfalls and meandering streams – so it is little wonder the region is heavily promoted by Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, drawing visitors from round the world.
Oman Air, the national carrier and the official carrier to Salalah Khareef Festival, has taken noticeable steps to connect the area to more destinations within the Middle East, and operates 25 flights a week to Salalah, in the Dhofar governorate, from Muscat in addition to four flights from Dubai and one directly from Kuwait.
“The increased frequencies are due to the anticipated growth in aviation traffic to Salalah. During this period every year, Salalah gears up to welcome tourist groups escaping to beat the heat in the region,” says Hassan bin Talib Al-Lawati, country manager, Oman.
Post an evaluation of last year’s market research, Oman Air has increased flights this year to attract more tourists to enjoy the unmatched Khareef weather and the festivity which has grown to be a major attraction due to its numerous activities. Sustained with such essentials, Oman Air has made available more than 8,000 spaces weekly to and from Salalah. “Since Muscat is the hub for Oman Air, timings were made convenient throughout the day, with the first flight set for 0130, and the last at 2215, averaging three flights daily, increased to five at weekends. We have established an Oman Air reservation office at the Municipality function ground, and the Oman Air call centre remains open to receive inquiries from 7 am to 12 midnight,” he added.
Other efforts include package deals from around the region. Out of Bahrain, the airline has introduced special packages until August 31, with ticket rates ranging from BD100 to BD140, says Issa Al Harthy, Oman Air country manager for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Attractive deals have also been drawn up in arrangement with top hotels in Salalah, he says.
Zulfikar Ali, general manager of Al Fanar Travel, general sales agents for Oman Air, says more than 200 packages were sold in Bahrain last year. “This year, we hope to sell more. Many people who earlier opted for Far East or European holidays are now keen to visit Salalah to give an Arabic flavour to their holidays,” he says. Packages such as Salalah, the Great Escape include tickets, hotel accommodation and other add-ons.
For those that can’t make it during the monsoon, some say the region has year-round appeal. Says Shaji Thomas, director of sales at Crowne Plaza Salalah, “Salalah is no longer a destination for Khareef as it was two years ago, but an all-round destination, thanks to the Swedish charters. This year, there has been a marginal increase from production results of last year. However, August is the main month of the season and things are expected to be much better.”
The number of tourists who visited Dhofar in the period from June 21 to August 15 in 2005 stood at 195,133 compared to 167,414 tourists in the same period in 2004, according to results of a survey of Khareef Salalah 2005 visitors.
by Kavita Pandit
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