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Oman 2016 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ali Bin Nasser Al Rasbi, Acting CEO of Omran, on the country's mega tourism projects, developing lasting relationships with foreign investors, and the government's philosophy to focus on selective tourism.

Ali Bin Nasser Al Rasbi
BIOGRAPHY
Ali Bin Nasser Al Rasbi, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Engineering, commenced his career in the oil and gas industry at PDO in 1986. He was also Head of Construction of the completed Mukhaizna field cold development facilities. In 2000, he became a founding member of Oman Gas Company. He reached the position of General Manager- Technical & Board Member, working in various departments including Capital Projects, Asset Integrity, IT & Telecom and Procurement, and QHSE. In 2010, he joined Omran as Senior Commercial Manager and is now the Chief Operations Officer & Board Member, responsible for four prime departments.

What have been Omran's most important projects in recent years and which ones are lined up for 2016?

Our first tourism project was the Millennium Resort Mussanah which was developed to host the 2nd Asian Beach games in 2010. This was the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the Sultanate and a very proud moment for the nation. In the following years, the pace of our developments intensified, with the opening of the Jebel Sifah integrated tourism complex, the Crowne Plaza and City Hotel in Duqm, Atana Musandam and Khasab and the award winning Alila Jabal Akhdar resort. In 2014, in order to accommodate our expanding role for the development of tourism infrastructure in Oman, our mandate was broadened and responsibilities were expanded beyond a single asset management company.

We are now responsible for mega tourism projects across the country such as the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC) and Al Irfan Urban Centre, which is currently in the master-planning stage, and will become the largest mixed use development in the Sultanate to date. The OCEC project is expected to generate OMR295 million in local spending and contribute OMR200-240 million to the national economy by 2030 according to a study by Booz & Co. Al Irfan City, which will become a new urban center in the capital, will encompass business and residential zones, retail centres, hotels, tourist attractions, recreation and cultural facilities as well as schools and hospitals, while being conveniently located nearby Muscat International Airport.

What is Omran's relation with foreign investors?

We have several high profile joint venture projects underway right now. One of these is Saraya Bandar Jissah, a joint-venture between Omran and Saraya Developments located on the outskirts of Muscat on a secluded beach surrounded by the Hajar Mountains. This is an Integrated Tourism Complex (ITC) scheduled for a grand opening in 2017. It will include five residential zones, a recreation center, and two five-star hotels. The luxury hotels are each positioned on the beach and will offer guests a boutique or resort experience, and will form the major leisure component of Saraya Bandar Jissah.

What is your outlook for the tourism sector in the coming five years?

The sector is very promising, especially with the opening of the new Muscat International Airport in the next year, which will reduce bottlenecks and enable a capacity of 12 million passengers a year. Developers are also boosting the number of hotel rooms to accommodate the increasing visitors. All of this will mean a stronger tourism sector over the next five years.

The government has been focused on high-end tourism. Do you think the offering will diversify into the middle range?

The government's philosophy has been to focus on selective tourism rather than mass tourism. This means quality and repeat tourism and so our facilities and infrastructure should reflect this type of clientele. We aim to entice visitors, whether in Oman for business or leisure, to extend their trip and stay on to enjoy the many offerings available. However, we are seeing a trend of hotel guests who are not budget travelers, but also are not looking to pay $250 or more per night. We think it is possible to attract and cater to this market without compromising our niche, top-end clientele. This is a challenge but we are working on building facilities that will attract such visitors and at the same time enable them to experience Omani culture. The development of the Atana hotel chain is a step forward in this regard, allowing families and adventurers to enjoy the picturesque sites of Oman at more mid-range prices.