TBY talks to HE Ahmed Nasser Hamad Al-Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, on growing the sector, and the effects of infrastructure developments.

HE Ahmed Nasser Hamad Al-Mahrizi
HE Ahmed Nasser Hamad Al-Mahrizi earned his BA in International Relations from the Mohammed V University in Morocco in 1988 before beginning his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the next 20-plus years, HE Al-Mahrizi served as ambassador to countries including Algeria, Ghana, Kazakhstan, France, and Portugal. In addition, HE Al-Mahrizi has held Chairmanships and Board Memberships in numerous official bodies including the Salalah Free Zone Company, the Oman Investment Fund, and the Oman Tourism Development Company.

What are you doing to promote the Oman brand internationally?

The Ministry of Tourism's marketing strategy aims to promote Oman internationally as a quality destination for responsible tourists and, in doing so, to spread tourism's benefits throughout the Sultanate of Oman. The Ministry's portfolio of marketing activities adds wide-ranging government programs that showcase Oman as a preferred location for business, trade, tourism, and living. Our call to action is used to convey the message: there are moments in Oman that make you realize that beauty has an address. This includes tangible and intangible visitor experiences surrounded by world-class scenery.

What are you doing to promote expanded options in the tourism sector?

The Ministry has opened 10 market-based representatives in major European cities, as well as in Australia, India, and the UAE, which cater to countries in the GCC region. These offices are intensifying their marketing and promotion efforts to attract more tourists from their respective markets. Moreover, the Ministry is joining forces with Oman Air to promote and market Oman as a unique destination. More efforts are underway to upgrade and intensify the utilization of the Ministry's website.

How would you assess Oman's progress regarding its Vision 2020 goal of 12 million arrivals?

Tourism in the Sultanate is at the center of these ambitions, with an ultimate objective of attracting 12 million tourists in 2020. Statistics show that there was a 6% increase in the number of tourists in 2013 compared to 2012. About 2.18 million visited the Sultanate in 2013, up from 2 million tourists in 2012. These statistics are not yet final, and could well rise. A large number of projects are being laid out, including the development of the country's two major airports in Muscat and Salalah, the construction of new airports, and a general improvement of transportation infrastructure in the country. The Port of Muscat is also being developed to attract more cruise passengers.

Can you elaborate on how the government's infrastructure investment will impact the tourism industry?

The unique selling point of Oman's tourism remains its beautiful landscape, ecology, and heritage. The government is doing a good job in turning things around in the tourism sector. By significantly investing in its national carrier, Oman Air, and funding airport development, the government has already driven up tourism inflows into Oman. Simultaneously, Muscat International Airport has been transformed into a regional and international travel hub. Oman Air has been expanding its network to potential source markets. With higher handling capacity at airports and seaports, as is envisaged in the eighth plan, Oman will continue to attract more international flights and cruise ships leading to strong travel and tourism sector growth. Furthermore, the development of additional domestic airports and seaports will improve accessibility to interior locations, which will unleash a slew of yet-untapped tourism opportunities. These range from large multi-zone, multi-use urban developments like The Wave Muscat and the Muriya project in Salalah, to fast track clearances for hotels and tourism attraction areas. This additional capacity will lead to increased tourism promotion and arrivals.

How do you expect your operations to evolve in the future?

We are developing a new tourism strategy with an external agency, which specializes in tourism. This new strategy will focus on increasing the contributions of the tourism sector to the GDP of the country. A Spanish think tank has been engaged to study tourism strategy in Oman. The company has started its preliminary work, and the team is currently visiting the governorates of the Sultanate to examine tourist sites and identify potential tourism products. This is part of the formation of a comprehensive understanding of the quantitative and qualitative nature of Oman's tourism sector. This project is expected to last anywhere from a year, to a year and a half, in order to be implemented according to requirements.