COME & SEE

Oman 2016 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, on targets in terms of boosting tourist arrivals.

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 will become a target market. We are very happy with the demographics coming in; however, with our ongoing tourism strategy, we are also focused on the premium tourist, the responsible tourist who respects culture and environment, and the tourist who can add value to the economy as well. This is what we have built our strategy upon.

In terms of family travel, can you elaborate on what areas you will be promoting opportunities in this area?

To start with, it is to be noted that there has been a huge increase in domestic travelling. In 1Q2015, we had an increase of domestic travelling of 24%. Good revenue is coming in from four- and five-star hotels, and the demand from families is also increasing as well. More facilities, both indoor and outdoor, have been launched in a number of regions. Many tourists want to enjoy Oman's nature and see what the outdoors have to offer. A good number from the GCC have come to Oman with their families to experience this. During the holidays, we have also seen more traffic from European countries, with families enjoying tourism in the outdoors. The increase of the number of families coming to Oman is showing a healthy growth pattern moving forward.

What can you do to promote people coming to Oman in the hotter and drier months?

Many have the perception that Oman is only seasonal. However, we are creating activities during the off-season period because of the different weathers to be experienced in our country. We have been working hard on this, and are seeing the successful outcome of projects to promote Oman as an all-season destination. The weather in the summer months remains pleasant in the mountains, in addition to the autumn Khareef season in Salalah. Now we have cruise liners coming in all the time because of an extended season. We have more facilities being developed, and a number of major projects are catering to the needs of year-round tourism. A lot of people want different experiences rather than just a winter getaway, which is why there are different projects in the pipeline, which will cater to Oman being an attractive destination throughout the year.

In what way is sustainable tourism being promoted, and are there any specific projects that 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 Ministry's focus on the environment, how can you coordinate with environmental companies to make sure that tourism supports this aspect?

All of our projects must be authorized by the Ministry of the Environment, which is an important and unique feature as far as Oman is concerned. To make sure that all of our projects are environmentally friendly and keep within the guidelines of His Majesty, we do not want to be in an industry where you would have a negative impact in the long run. All of our costs are taken into account for each situation, and we regularly review requirements since global standards are constantly changing.

In terms of the projects that are being developed as 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 pose challenges, but we now have an opportunity to work on our five-year plan. We also have a long-term plan tourism vision for 2040, which we are executing with the government.

Can you give us an example of the types of strategies you are working on for 2040?

The main target is to bring in 5 million international tourists to Oman by 2040. The scope of the strategy focuses on jobs, and we are working closely with the government and stakeholders to ensure that we have a good platform for industry and education. Tourism jobs worldwide are one in every eleven right now, and the job creation will hopefully show continued growth through both direct and indirect supply chains.