TBY talks to James Wilson, CEO of Omran, on business strategy, sustainable tourism, and creating jobs in Oman.

James Wilson
James Wilson was appointed CEO of Omran in 2016, having transitioned from Oman’s Ministry of Transport & Communications, where he led the planning of the Mina Al Sultan Qaboos Waterfront development, launched in 2016. Wilson has more than 30 years of experience in resort and property development, public-private partnership ventures, strategic management, and investment promotion. His experience includes developing and acquiring some of the most prestigious and recognizable real estate and tourism destinations across Europe, the GCC, and Africa, including the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, Pine Cliffs & Quinta Do Lago in Portugal, the Zimbali Resort in Durban, and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa.

What is the progress of your most relevant integrated projects, and how are they supporting Omran's broader business strategy?

We have a number of projects at different stages of construction underway. One of the most iconic projects is the Madinat Al Irfan Urban Centre. The project will establish a new urban center within Muscat. It will be at the nexus of excellent transport connections within the capital and beyond, including a location close to the new Muscat International Airport, and will create a new downtown for residents, businesses, and visitors. More than 7 million sqm, the new center will offer a new urban fabric for Muscat, establishing an integrated, sustainable, and inclusive community catering to many different ages, income groups, and ethnicities. This will become a model for new urban development locally and regionally. As with all developments Omran works on, Madinat Al Irfan will draw influence from the rich heritage and culture of Oman, while still offering everything a contemporary city should. A key feature of this urban development's first phase is the world-class Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC), which opened its doors last September. The OCEC is built with state-of-the-art facilities and in accordance with the rigorous LEED certification of environmental excellence. Omran's OCEC is set to attract a completely new business and market to the country and strongly position Oman as one of the key MICE hubs of the region. It has just hosted its first exhibition in October in the newly finished exhibition halls, and the conference facilities will be open in 2017. Approximately 600 hotel rooms are under construction to directly support the OCEC: the five-star luxury JW Marriott and the four-star Crowne Plaza, in which Oman's two leading pension funds have recently made a 20% investment. Having these assets already on-site is important to prospective investors. Business on many projects of this size is done off plan, but investor confidence is boosted when assets are already in place. This opens up the door for investors to look at the attractive investment proposition that the upcoming phases of Madinat Al Irfan provide. The partnership models will be flexible and investor friendly, with a carefully established regulatory framework in place to encourage investment.

How is Omran supporting the development of sustainable tourism projects across Oman?

Omran is committed to driving Oman's social and economic growth through developments that are financially, socially, environmentally, and culturally sustainable. It is our duty to safeguard Oman's communities, natural beauty, wildlife, and rich culture so sustainability is built into every aspect of Omran's project design and delivery, and we only undertake developments that have been assessed for their impact on the environmental and local communities. For example, the W Hotel is going for the highest LEED rating, which is the main body that legislates environmentally sensitive design, and Omran's Atana Musandam Resort already holds a Silver LEED certificate. In addition, our flagship mountain hotel, Alila, was the first LEED certified hotel in Oman. It is made out of local stone mined from the top of Jabal Akhdar, where the weather is around 15 degrees cooler than in Muscat year round. At Alila, we have launched the Farming for Hospitality project, for which we partnered up with local farmers that now provide fruit and vegetables for the hotel and nearby hotels.

What is your outlook for Omran over the next 12 months?

One of the key objectives of my appointment is to move the company into a much more profitable position, and that is done through financial success and sustainable development. We are the tourism and real estate pillar of the country, and the only way we can move forward, and the best way to move forward, is with private-sector participation in everything that we do. For every hotel bedroom we build, it has been proven in terms of worldwide statistics that it creates seven direct and indirect jobs. From the person who sells the bread to the hotel, to the tour operator, or the person who cleans the room, the multiplier effect on the economy will be substantial. Our commitment is to be seen as a credible partner for the private sector, and to be seen as an organization committed to developing world class destinations that can help the tourism sector of Oman reach its potential, while ensuring our full commitment to doing this in a sustainable manner that safeguards Oman's social, environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.