Oct. 15, 2020
Oman is the Arab world's culture-rich masterpiece. With a pristine coastline, a large and diverse expat population, and an ancient soul intertwined with modernization, it's a tourist destination that many would today venture toward in a heartbeat. Oman's years of dependence on oil is now shifting to other means. Business is thriving on the back of immense opportunities and tourism is slowly driving the Sultanate to the vision set in motion by the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The growth of Oman's tourism sector can be attributed to a host of factors. On one hand, a mix of modern cities and untouched diverse landscapes sets Oman apart from neighboring countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, a combination of world heritage sites and authentic Arabian experiences lures in more visitors every year. Notably, the number of inbound tourists topped 3 million in 2019, up from 1.5 million in 2008. The government expects the number to rise to 11 million by 2040, thanks to initiatives such as the National Tourism Planning Initiative (NTPI), the Tourism Investment Special Unit (TISU), the Special Tourism Entrepreneurship Program (TEP), the Signature Experiences Program (SEP), and the Host Community Participation and Benefits Program.
In short, all the above-mentioned initiatives are aimed at satisfying the needs of all types of tourists, filling the missing gaps, and further differentiating Oman's tourism offering from other countries. Up until May 2020, the success of tourism-related government policies has been nothing short impressive. Oman is becoming increasingly known among tourists as a land where choices are in abundance, in particular the multitude of services offered by SMEs, family businesses, and other tailor-made touristic expeditions.
Family-owned businesses are offering tourists a chance to explore the Bedouin lifestyle. Out and about in the Wahiba desert, tourists are able to indulge in the thrill of 4x4 sand driving, devour a delicious meal in the authentic Omani style, or enjoy traditional Omani music. Meeting desert tribes brings forth a surreal experience unmatched by any destination across the world as it allows tourists to be part of a unique untouched culture.
The government is not only training host communities to encourage tourism-related business start-ups and promote local culture and experiences but also connecting local entrepreneurs with national and international businesses to capitalize on global trends and strengthen the national brand. What is more, a tourism reinvestment fund for host communities has been established to promote the production of authentic crafts and build related technical and management capacities.
As a result, today SMEs and family-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most highly sought-after experiences in Oman. Be it extreme sports in the Jebel Sham wadi, turtle nesting and hatching in Ras al Jinz and Ad Daymaniyat islands, or the dhow cruise countrywide, all experiences are offered by small sustainable businesses. In a bid to take the overall experience up a notch, the government has set up the Oman Experience Agency, which is tasked with designing, delivering, and managing the growth of tourism experiences as well as creating value for tourists, local communities, and enterprises.
Growth in tourism has truly given birth to better and more diverse opportunities for Omanis and helped preserve invaluable cultural and natural assets. More importantly, it has helped show the world that Oman is an open and friendly place to visit, do business, and invest. And while the government's efforts in terms of encouraging the growth of SMEs and creating a social responsibility framework are commendable, more work needs to be done on improving access to finance for tourism SMEs and family-owned businesses.