Oman is aiming to attract 12 million tourists per year by 2020 – almost five times the current number.
The sultanate has one of the fastest growing tourism sectors in the world, but the focus on development, following the creation of the new Ministry of Tourism in 2004, has been on sustainable growth leveraging the country’s rich cultural heritage.
According to a March 2009 report by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel and tourism sector is set to achieve annualised growth of 7.8 per cent per annum, in real terms, over the next ten years, to reach almost $7 billion by 2019.
Khalid Al Zadjali, acting director of tourism events for Oman’s Tourism Ministry, said: “Oman was one of the few countries in the region that was not largely affected by the global recession. This is mainly because of our strategy to not be dependent on a single market. Taking this approach ahead, 2010 will see Oman tapping into newer source markets including India and China, while we continue to tap into our regional markets.”
Despite a broader trend of dampened international travel demand during the economic downturn, Oman saw a year on year increase of 5.8 per cent in international passenger arrivals in 2009, exceeding 2.5 million. The Ministry of Tourism is aiming to attract 12 million visitors per year by 2020.
This growth is partly driven by significant government investment into tourism infrastructure. The first phase of the expansion and modernisation of Muscat International Airport has been launched, which will increase handling capacity to 12 million passengers by 2014, and three subsequent phases will ultimately boost capacity to 48 million passengers by 2050.
In February Oman opened its first dedicated, ultra-modern passenger cruise terminal. The RO2.7- million ($7-million) facility was developed as a joint venture between the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Ministry of Tourism and the Port Services Corporation. From just eight cruise ship arrivals totalling 3,450 passengers in 2003, Oman’s cruise ship tourism now accounts for 120 ships carrying around 300,000 passengers who are expected to visit the country in the 2010-11 season.
Similar port projects are also planned for Salalah in the south and Shinas to the north of Muscat. And the country is also attracting large-scale hotel investment with 23 new properties scheduled to open in the next three years. Marriott recently launched its first Oman property in Salalah and 2010 will see at least five further openings bringing more than 1,500 extra rooms to the market in this year alone.
“Another important strategy for Oman in 2010 will be to develop areas beyond Muscat to our international tourists. The new four-star hotel Swiss-Belhotel Masirah that opened recently is expected to boost tourism into the island,” added Zadjali.
Omran, the Oman Government’s tourism development and investment arm, has also undertaken the development of a world-class home for the second Asian Beach Games which will take place at Musannah, 150 kms from Muscat, in December 2010. This includes an on-site four-star hotel to be managed by Millennium Hotels & resorts. “This will be the first sports event of its kind to be held in Oman,” he said.
And, according to WTTC figures, from providing 87,000 jobs in 2010, or 7.8 per cent of total employment, the travel and tourism sector will grow to provide one in every 10 or 134,000 jobs by 2020.
Oman’s focus on meetings and incentive travel is also stepping up. Zadjali, who recently participated at GIBTM 2010 in Abu Dhabi, said: “We are seeing strong growth in Mice business and see a bright future with the sultanate’s decision to build a 6,000-plus seat convention and exhibition centre in Muscat, due for completion in 2013.”
Oman’s reputation for niché conferences will be given added profile when Muscat hosts the 4th International Responsible Tourism Destinations Conference next October.
Zadjali added: “We also welcome the ‘leveraging’ that comes flows from niche conferences like the International Responsible Tourism Destinations Conference. The conference theme of ‘Living Landscapes’ fits well with our destination marketing, so we expect this conference will stimulate more adventure and nature-based travel.”
The push on Mice activity is a priority in Oman’s tourism strategy. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre will provide state-of-the-art facilities and make Oman a competitive venue for major global and regional events.
Al Zadjali concluded: “The new facility will complement the Mice capability of our leading hotels and resorts and act as a ‘springboard’ for break-out groups and excursions to experience Oman’s diverse regional landscapes and experiences.”
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