LEADING THE REGION

Oman 2015 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

With both prudent governance and a strong vision, the Omani tourist sector is becoming recognized around the world as a key global player.

Oman has made great strides over the past decade to develop its tourism sector; and the focused effort and steady leadership that the government has shown is bearing fruit. Planning for sectoral development as early as 2004, the government decided to make it a central plank of economic diversification. Despite concentrated efforts to broaden the economy, the Omani government remains heavily reliant on hydrocarbon revenues, with the sector accounting for 46% of GDP. Yet according to Moody's 2014 annual report, the government is now focusing “on infrastructure investment, and on fostering non-oil sectors such as logistics, the fishing industry, and tourism." Tourism in particular has shown excellent results, with Oman being named the leading 2014 Tourism Destination for the Middle East by the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC). According to the Ministry of Tourism, almost 2.2 million tourists visited Oman in 2013. "We are looking to an average 14% increase compared to last year," HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism, told The Times of Oman.

The 2014 WTTC Report on Oman shows that the Sultanate is performing well in every assessed category, and in most indicators is ranked higher than much of the Middle East. Projected growth in 2014 for the direct contribution from tourism to Oman's GDP is 10.2%; the third highest among the 180 countries the WTTC analyzes. The direct contribution of tourism to GDP was 2.6% in 2013, and the total overall contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was OMR2,078.6 million (6.4% of GDP) in 2013, and this is forecast to rise to OMR3,886.3 million (8.2% of GDP) by 2024. Moreover, in 2013, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Oman's employment markets, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 6.4% of total employment (72,000 jobs). This is expected to rise to 116,000 jobs in 2024 (8.4% of total employment). By 2024, travel and tourism will account for 60,000 jobs directly, which is an increase of 3.9% per annum over the next 10 years. When investment, supply chain, and associated income impacts were included, tourism's overall contribution to Oman's economy last year reached $5 billion, and is forecast to hit $10 billion by 2024, the WTTC reports. By 2024 the industry is predicted to account directly for 4.4% of national employment. There is a great deal of growth in related sectors as well. In 2013, the Ministry of Tourism sanctioned the development of 54 new hotel resorts across the country, which will increase the number of rooms available by almost 3,000 units. In 2013, 24 new hotels opened their doors, bringing the overall number in the Sultanate to 282, while room numbers reached 14,400, marking a 12.3% YoY increase. According to HSBC Global Connections—Oman expects capital investment in travel and tourism to rise 11.7% in 2014 compared to $661 million in 2013. The strategy is a clear success. Oman saw growth in occupancy rates to 65% in 2013. The Sultanate also experienced the highest revenue per available room growth in the region, rising 111.8% YoY. The industry projects the country's hospitality sector growing at an annual rate of 12.1% until at least 2018, with revenues from hotel rooms set to grow at 15.3% annually during that period. The Ministry of Tourism expects hotels and restaurants to contribute 5% of the GDP by 2021. Infrastructure for tourism is expanding at a healthy rate as well. Currently, six international airports are either in the planning stages, or under construction in Salalah, Duqm, Ras Al Hadd, Adam, and Sohar, as the Sultanate makes a concerted effort to capitalize on the MICE industry and to mix business with leisure tourism. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Center alone can hold 3,200 people and boasts more than 22,000 square meters of exhibition space. The development of a number of infrastructure projects in the aviation, road, rail, and maritime sectors, including a $1.8 billion passenger terminal at the Muscat International Airport and the transformation of the Port Sultan Qaboos in Muscat into a tourism and cruise ship district, are part of the government plan to attract more tourists.

The government also plans to increase the number of its representative offices abroad. So far, these offices operate in many countries, including France, the UK, and Germany. Oman is proving a popular destination with GCC nationals and westerners alike. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of Australian travelers to Oman increased by 3%. And in 1H2014, around 26,000 French citizens visited Oman. The Ministry is promoting tourism from France as a major market, and reports that 47,000 French citizens visited the Sultanate in 2013.

GREEN INVESTMENTS

Oman may be investing in tourism to diversify its economy, but it is also investing for the long term. A basic guiding principle laid out in the 2004 National Tourism Development Plan is the principle of sustainable tourism. This is specifically meant to facilitate economic diversification, while preserving cultural integrity and protecting the environment, and developing and managing the tourism sector in the Sultanate. Sustainable development across a number of economic sectors, including tourism, has been widely adopted throughout the world as a fundamental national development principle. The Ras Al Hadd project is an excellent case study in this style of sustainable development. The Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran) and the Qatari Diar Company have partnered up to develop a land area of approximately 1,848 square kilometers, with an estimated budget of OMR250 million, according to The Times of Oman. The shareholding balance in this joint development company is divided between Omran, holding 30%, and the Diar Company holding the remaining 70%. The development has the notion of sustainability built into every phase. The first phase of the project includes a 100 room eco-resort, as well as 50 hotel villas and 50 residential villas; there is also a 7,000 sqm area designated for a souq market. The expected completion of this first phase is late 2018. The second phase involves the addition of 100 new five-star hotel rooms, as well as an additional 196 residential villas, and a dedicated center for wildlife preservation with an observation park set over a 10,000 sqm area. The Times of Oman reports that the third phase will see the construction of a further 200-room five-star resort, an additional 50 hotel villas, 179 residential villas, and a new market area covering 16,000 sqm, as well as specialized park for marine life. The final phase of the Ras Al Hadd project will include a 150-room five-star hotel, 50 hotel villas, 175 new residential villas, a cultural heritage village, and specialized accommodations for staff. Similar investment opportunities are available throughout the Sultanate. In July, the Ministry of Tourism opened 22 locations across the country for investment, in a drive to encourage domestic and foreign capital for tourist facilities. Moreover, according to the Ministry of Tourism, a 20,000 sqm tourist camp and 15,000 sqm tourist center are being developed in the Al Khoudh area of the Muscat Governorate. In Dhofar Governorate, the Tourism Ministry is opening three locations for investment bids, including the construction of a 5,000 sqm skating and entertainment resort (indoor) in the industrial zone in Salalah. Furthermore, there is also a 10,000 sqm entertainment center for women and children in Mirbat and a 10,000 sqm tourist entertainment center in Thumrait, in addition to various projects in other districts. In addition, the Special Economic Zone at Duqm has attracted tourism-based projects with a combined value of $779 million. The tourist area of the zone, which includes 19 kilometers of coastline, has eight hotels planned over the next 20 years. Not resting on the laurels of their 2014 successes, both the Omani government and private sector are continuing to invest in the future; and it seems very bright indeed.