MAN THE DECKS

Oman 2015 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, on promoting tourism, developing a sailing culture, and the international appeal of the sport.

David Graham
BIOGRAPHY
David Graham is the CEO of Oman Sail, and has over 20 years of experience in the sailing industry. After graduating from Southampton Institute of Higher Education with a distinction profile in Water-based Leisure Management, he worked his way up to being principle of the Windsport International Sailing Academy in the UK, working as a sales executive for Performance Sailing Europe, where he attained the position of Chairman of the Board and Managing Director. In this capacity, David managed the acquisition of American counterpart Vanguard Sailboats and then went on to manage the wider organization from the US.

Why did the Sultanate of Oman use Oman Sail as a means of representing and promoting the country?

There are two primary reasons, the first of which is very relevant to the country; the Sultanate of Oman has a deep maritime history and one of the desires of the country is to reinstate that legacy. During the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, His Majesty King Constantine of Greece commented on Oman saying, “It is lovely to see a country with such a deep maritime history reinstate it in such a short space of time." Oman Sail is rekindling Oman's maritime heritage and flying Oman's flag internationally at the most well-known sailing events in the world. Sailing attracts international followers who comprise the upper-segment of the socio-economic sphere. For example, 90% of the EU's sailing population comes from the demographic containing doctors, CEOs, company directors, entrepreneurs, and the like. Oman is targeting this tourism sector; it is seeking sports tourists and the more discerning travelers. Oman Sail's participation in prestigious international events such as the Extreme Sailing Series and MOD70 circuit provides the perfect platform to communicate with this target in the countries that have been identified as high priority by the Ministry of Tourism.

How is Oman Sail supporting the Sultanate's ambitious tourism objectives?

We are supporting them in a number of ways; on the promotional side we are obviously reinforcing their tourism goals. We attend and participate in very high-end events, with the objective of promoting tourism. We also either host or design events in country, for example, the Laser World Championships, which we held last year. That event brought 1,000 people into the country, with a high proportion of them flying Oman Air. They then stayed in Omani hotels, ate here, and purchased other goods and services, such as car rentals. Such events, therefore, have a substantial positive impact on the Omani economy. Thirdly, we offer sailing services; we help tourists with chartering boats and learning how to sail.

What is the best way to develop a sailing culture?

Sailing is a fun sport and the best way to get people involved in it is to teach them about its benefits and allow them to try it out. We believe that the best way to develop a sailing culture is to raise awareness of the sport. We do this by organizing regular events at the most popular beaches in Oman, where people can try sailing for free with our trained sailing instructors. We also use our sailors as role models for the youth and organize visits to schools around Muscat where they can speak to students about their experiences in sailing and what they gained from engaging in the sport.

What are the advantages of having a school at The Wave in Muscat?

This is one of four such schools. We have plans to have eight schools up and running by 2020. The advantage of having a school at The Wave is that it benefits locals, while also being in close proximity to the city of Muscat. What we find is that the schools all lean in different directions; Mussanah is more about events and team building, providing corporate leadership and development courses. Our school at The Wave, Muscat is more commercial. At Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, we direct programs geared at youth sailing, while Sur, which has just opened, is therefore malleable, and may take one of several directions.