There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on many industries, though perhaps no sector was impacted as much as tourism. The situation grew even worse when the Omani government stopped issuing tourist visas for a prolonged period. This was a unfortunate as Oman's tourism sector was beginning to enjoy a much-awaited period of prosperity before the pandemic with the opening of several high-end resorts and hotels as well as the launching of several successful tourism campaigns by bodies such as the Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran).
In any case, the pandemic came to pass and changed everything. The nation's tourism-related businesses, however, did not lose heart and came up with initiatives to stay alive even during those challenging times. For one thing, Oman started to act as a stopover for those stranded travelers whose final destination was, say, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Omani tourism businesses offered such stranded holidaymakers quarantine packages until such time that they were cleared for entry to their destination country.
At the same time, tourism businesses turned their attention temporarily from international travelers to the residents of the Sultanate itself. This form of tourism, sometimes referred to as staycations, saved many businesses from bankruptcy by keeping hotels, resorts, and food and beverage establishments across Oman minimally profitable to survive the dark days of international travel bans.
Staycations work particularly well in countries that enjoy huge diversity in terms of terrain and climate. And Oman is blessed with more climate diversity than some would imagine. Rocky shores and sand beaches in the north and east, the mist-covered Al Hajar Mountains in the Omani midlands, and otherworldly deserts in the southeastern parts of the country, each offer a different kind of vacation experience for the local population and international travelers stuck in Oman. It is fair to say that Oman enjoys more terrain diversity than any other GCC country.
In March 2021, the Sultanate's tourist promotion organization, OMAN Group, launched a campaign called #DoubleYourDelight to encourage the Omanis and other long-time residents in the country to explore that local attractions of Oman in the absence of long-haul flights to other places across the world.
The campaign encouraged staycations by offering a 50% discount or letting two people travel together to destinations across Oman at the price usually charged for a single traveler. The slogans “Pay 1 Stay 2," and “Half Your Money Back" were frequently used by the campaigners. The hashtag, #DoubleYourDelight, meanwhile was used quite frequently by Omani users on various social media platforms.
The campaign worked in tandem with some 14 hotels and holiday resorts in Oman to offer a wide range of experiences that satisfied all tastes. The discounted getaway opportunity started on March 2021 and ended in May 2021. The participating hotels were truly diverse. While those enjoying city escapes could choose an urban hotel such as InterContinental, Muscat, widely different options such as Millennium Resort Mussanah and Dibba Beach Resort were also on the menu for those seeking sun and sand tourism. Those with a soft spot for natural beauties could spend their staycation in Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve or the mountainous Alila Jabal Akhdar.
The holiday packages offered by the campaign were highly flexible and personalized for each holiday maker. Hygienic precautions, meanwhile, were given a top priority in all 14 hotels and resorts working with the campaign to make sure that, during their staycation, travelers would not encounter any risks with regard to their health.
The staycation packages offered in Oman included activities ranging from wild pastimes such as speed boating and scuba diving for those of a thrill-seeking disposition to less adrenaline-inducing activities such as fine dining and relaxing spa sessions. All these activities were conducted in compliance with COVID-19 precautions put in place by Oman's supreme committee for COVID-19, in particular social distancing and frequent sanitization of surfaces.
At times, the local travel packages tailored for the days of the pandemic were used not by those who intended to travel for recreational purposes, but by those who had come to Oman as a regional travel hub but were stuck in the country as transit passengers due to travel limitations to many secondary destinations, especially Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Those travelers did not have a tough time in Oman either. Many Saudi transit passengers who were quarantined in Oman had the luxury of staying for a fortnight at the likes of the Renaissance Village Duqm, where in addition to accommodation and meals, they received two PCR COVID-19 tests each day.
While the staycation opened the eyes of many Omanis to the beauties of their own native country, quarantine packages familiarized transit passengers who had ended up in Oman by chance with the country. When the country's tourism rebounds with the vaccination efforts in 2021 both groups are likely to take a closer look at Oman's bountiful tourism potential.