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Oman 2015 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary for the Ministry of Tourism, on boosting the number of arrivals in Oman.

HE Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi studied at Oxford University in the UK, where she became the first female graduate from the Gulf to attain a Bachelors of Science—in cartography, from the UK Board of Cartography in 1999. Prior to becoming the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism in October 2011, she held numerous other positions such as Country Manager Oman of Oman Air, and managerial positions for Gulf Air and Emirates Airlines. She also worked as a field surveyor in the UK and worked as a trainer for the Oman Ministry of Defense.

How would you characterize Oman's progress toward reaching its Vision 2020 target of 12 million arrivals in the Sultanate?

The numbers of passengers traveling through Muscat Airport should reach 12 million per year by 2020. Our optimism is based on a number of factors related to the extensive infrastructure development programs in place, namely, the completion of Phase II of the Integrated Tourism Complexes at The Wave, Al Sifa, and Salalah Beach, in addition to a number of new projects in the various governorates. The launching of the Convention and Exhibition Center in Muscat over the next few years will be another attraction, targeting business visitors, which will also assist the Sultanate in increasing the number of arrivals. Furthermore, the work going on at present in improving and expanding the infrastructure during Khareef Salalah (the monsoon season in the south of the country) will also enhance the chances of achieving our target. We are also banking on the continued political and economic stability of the country, and the hospitality of the local communities toward visitors.

How does Oman's approach to Tourism differ from other countries in the GCC area?

Our approach to tourism is distinctive within the region because of the differences in tourism potential against assets and resources. Oman is blessed with diversified natural resources and a rich heritage, exemplified by more than 500 forts and castles, and a number of historical mountainous villages. Ultimately, our approach to tourism focuses on these strong and different selling points, and our promotion and marketing strategies are centered around them. The wise utilization of these potential and varied resources will give us an edge in terms of arrivals and extended periods of stay in our country.

How is the tourism industry creating sustainable jobs in Oman, especially through SMEs?

It is well known that the tourism sector is labor intensive by its nature, presenting vast employment opportunities to the national labor force. And although the employment of Omanis in the different sectors is below the government's ambitions due to a number of factors—mainly the low wages offered by the sector thus far, and the reserved attitudes toward the offered jobs—the number of Omanis in the sector has been steadily rising, albeit at a slow pace. The Ministry has been working on many fronts to enhance Omani employment across different activities. One of these fronts is tourism education and training with relevant institutes to increase the intake and improvement of the courses on offer. The second aspect concentrates on coordination between tourism companies and promoters, to promote additional job opportunities for Omanis. The third front concentrates on creating awareness of the sector, thus resulting in changing the attitudes of Omanis toward employment in the tourism sector. We have recently observed a positive change in attitudes, which needs to be re-enforced and consolidated.

How would you characterize the significance of tourism revenues on Oman's diversified economy?

The direct contribution of the sector to GDP currently stands at 2.3%, while the direct and indirect contribution is estimated at around 6%. Our plans, based on the objectives of the Vision for Oman's Economy: Oman 2020, call for increasing the share of the sector together with fisheries, oil-based industries, and information technology to lessen the dependence on oil as the main source of income. Taking into consideration the many ongoing large-scale projects, we believe that achieving more diversification of the economy is a logical course of action for the government. Tourism resources, together with the other properties of the Sultanate, will enable us to achieve the diversification objective of the vision within a reasonable time period.