SUPER STORES

Oman 2016 | TOURISM | FOCUS: NEW RETAIL VENUES

It might appear that Oman has everything to offer prospective tourists. Unspoiled beaches, wadis and waterfalls, rocky mountains, and far reaching desert sands. It sounds idyllic for tourists, but its retail sector has for a long time left much to be desired, and has left a gaping hole in its tourist attractions. Brand new locations and unique facilities could give the retail sector with a much-needed boost, providing greater local facilities while also providing further incentives to prospective tourists.

There can be little argument that, within the Gulf, Dubai is the shopping destination of choice. The Emirate has become a renowned center as hordes of tourists from all over Middle East flock there every year. Qatar's significant wealth has also allowed for a development of its retail sector, often catering to the high-end luxury goods that its local citizens desire. It might, therefore, seem that Oman, with several new locations under development, has entered the game a little late.

New destinations such as The Avenue and Panorama Mall will be ideally located in Bosher. Together with the military personnel mall in Mawaleh, these destinations will enhance the output from the retail sector in Oman by over a third. The planned Oman Mall in Bosher, Muscat Festival City in Airport Heights, and Palm Mall in Mabellah will also provide the retail sector with new capacity in the medium term.

One of the standouts for the future is Palm Mall. Currently being built in Seib, just outside of Muscat, it is set to be 180,000 sqm in size, with 157,000 available for retail development. It is one of the signature projects of Al Jarwani Group. The Chairman of the group, HE Mahmoud Ali Mohammed Al Jarwani, spoke to TBY about the new mall and the necessary improvements that the tourism sector needs to make; “It is not enough just to build hotels and await tourists,” he said. Palm Mall plans to take Oman's retail and entertainment industries one step further; “We are going to fill this gap by expanding our leisure and entertainment options,” he continued. Palm Mall will feature an aquarium and a Snow Village, reminiscent of similar facilities available in Dubai. It is the first time that either of these facilities will be available in Oman, and allows both domestic and international visitors a much greater range of activities. The Aquarium is particularly attractive for families with young children, while the Snow Village will provide children with a unique and, considering the Omani climate, unusual experience.

Retail services, while not necessarily absent, are currently fewer and far less extravagant than those to be found in neighboring UAE. It is, therefore, unlikely that the number of tourists travelling to Dubai every year will suddenly switch to Oman. The Emirates have growing reputations in the retail sector as well as a far greater experience and so immediate change is not plausible, but sustained investment, efficient marketing, and patience could give Oman the opportunity to establish itself as the next retail destination in the Gulf. More importantly, from a long-term standpoint, a strong retail destination would handsomely complement Oman's tourism sector. Visitors to the UAE may indulge in Arabian cultural experiences such as camel riding in the desert, hiking or dune bashing, but Oman has much more to offer. While adventure tourists can explore some of the Sultanate's better-kept secrets, a developing entertainment segment opens the country up to a wider demographic. Oman would never want to model itself on Dubai, and rightly so. But the increase in facilities will undoubtedly boost the retail sector, while adding an extra dimension to Oman's budding tourism industry.