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Oman 2017 | TOURISM & LIFESTYLE | FOCUS: 2040 TOURISM STRATEGY

With the global oil market in decline, Oman seeks to strengthen other sectors of its economy. The country has just begun to take advantage of its plethora of tourism assets and plans to significantly increase the sector's contribution to the economy by 2040.

Comprising around 36% of the total number of passengers arriving in Oman during 2015, tourists from around the world are increasingly choosing Oman as a holiday destination, putting the tourism industry on an ideal path to harness and maintain a steady annual growth.

Tourists visiting Oman can be found in a variety of sceneries and doing activities only a few other places can offer—enjoying a relaxing time by the ocean, hiking through the many wadis, taking 4x4s on adventures across desert mountains, or even enjoying Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House. Oman's tourism industry is experiencing its biggest boom yet, presenting a positive scenario for one of the Sultanate's most promising sectors.

Offering Oman an alternative source of economic strength amidst current challenges faced in the oil sector, Oman's geographic position has been the center of focus for the development of priority sectors in the country's 2020 vision. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism has taken it up a notch with the approval and launch of the National Strategy for Tourism 2040, which incorporates a 6% increase in the contribution of the tourism sector to Oman's GDP. The strategy puts special emphasis on increasing up to 88% the contribution of the private sector in tourism projects, while the government is estimated to increase investments in infrastructure projects by 12%. In order to become one of the most important tourism destinations in the world by 2040, the Sultanate needs to refocus its efforts on the appropriate amount of investments, says Ahmed bin Nasser Al Meherzi, Minister of Tourism, who also highlighted the importance of supporting SMEs during the announcement of the strategy.

In order to accommodate the expected rising number of visitors, the development of high-quality tourism infrastructure projects has been a major emphasis of the government in the last few years. The expansion of the new Muscat airport, set to open by 2017, as well as the continued expansion of the highway network connecting cities across Oman, are investments aimed at building up the industry's chances for success. The diversification of its visitor portfolio is also a goal for the Sultanate. Bilateral agreements with Asian nations are increasing, and new direct routes from South Korea and Thailand are broadening tourism initiatives and offerings.

A key player in the expansion of the tourism industry is Oman's Tourism Development Agency (Omran), which is currently developing 12 new projects throughout the country, from high-end resorts to eco-friendly developments, tailoring them according to new travel needs and trends. Omran is also facilitating the development of Oman's first family waterpark in Muscat, a project developed by the National CEO Program and financed in partnership with the private sector in an effort to replicate successful water entertainment endeavors in neighboring countries. It is aimed at attracting the interest of younger Omani generations in order to drive family based hotel occupancy. James Wilson, the CEO of Omran, gave TBY an exclusive look of the project's theme. “His Majesty wants us to showcase Oman's natural beauty, so the park will be designed following a rock park theme, with a combination of water activities and extreme sports like rock climbing.”

With a total investment of OMR20 billion, the National Strategy for Tourism 2040 will create more than 500,000 jobs and could propel Oman into the international tourism big leagues. The preparation stage is already under way, and special attention is being placed on three key areas: the cooperative efforts with the transportation sector in order to build adequate infrastructure to move and sustain the potential upsurge of visitors; the development of adequate education and training programs for the thousands of tourism staff that will be needed; and an appropriate groundwork and strategy for PPPs to be ready and operational by 2020. It is a challenging test, but a critical one if the country is to achieve the intended growth by 2030 and the hoped-for stability by 2040.