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Oman 2016 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, on expanding to new markets, developing sustainable tourism, and the impact of oil prices on tourism.

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 BSc 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.

What is the target demographic for tourism in Oman, and what are your targets in terms of tourist numbers?

Historically, the GCC has been the main region that Oman has drawn its tourists from. Europe is another major market and, with some of our developing projects, we believe we are going to attract tourists from other areas especially in regards to family travel. We are also in the process of looking towards far eastern markets such as China. In the long term, it is also our aim that the US would become a target market. We are very happy with the demographics coming in. However, with our on-going tourism strategy, we are also focused on the premium tourist, the responsible tourist who respects the culture and environment, and the tourist who can add value to the economy as well. There has been a huge increase in domestic travelling. In 1Q2015, we had an increase of domestic travelling of 24%.

How is sustainable tourism being promoted, and are there any specific projects which are being focused on?

Most of our projects now are either done by the Ministry directly or by Omran. We are working towards being sustainable because it is the future of tourism. We already have a lot of successful projects that have won some awards, and we have environmental projects to correlate with them. We work with investors to ensure that there are sustainable ways to maintain the environment. We also engage in projects with SMEs that are 100% environmentally friendly, and have started to build up that initiative as a pillar of our culture and a main driver of tourism. The diversification of our economy is important, and if we are going to make tourism a pillar of Oman's economy, we need to ensure that these areas are being addressed with the importance they deserve.

In terms of the projects that are being developed by the Ministry, what effect has the oil price reduction had?

The country has been working for a long time towards diversifying the economy. The tourism industry is one of the major pillars of the economy, and in the last five years our budget plan has shown a massive increase in funding from the government. Tourism and infrastructure expansion has certainly been a major part of their plan, and the infrastructure expansion was intended to invest on building up the industry of tourism. This country takes planning ahead seriously, which is why we ensure that investments are well planned and supported. The oil prices may have even helped with investments in the tourism sector. The sector is taking more credit in terms of development, and we now have over nine offices in the various regions of the country. Offices have been opened abroad, and the whole vision of the government is reflected in the tourism sector. The expansion of the airports has shown positive growth for the tourism industry as well. The oil prices dropping certainly poses challenges, but we now have an opportunity to work on our five-year plan. We also have a long-term tourism vision for 2040, which we are executing with the government.

Looking ahead in terms of your targets, what are key indicators of success for the Ministry of Tourism?

The target is to generate half a million jobs to accommodate our projected 5 million international tourists by 2040. Most importantly, our strength is to connect and coordinate in the way that the Ministry of Tourism works in Oman. The vision of the government is to ensure that the main sectors have a better focus and add value to the country.