HEART OF THE CITY

Oman 2017 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eng. Saif Al Hinai, Acting CEO of Omran, on the growth of tourism, the luxury segment, and urban development in the capital.

Tourism is a major growth sector in Oman and one that will be at the core of the government's reform agenda. How is Omran supporting the sector?

Omran's current development projects include Madinat Al Irfan Urban Centre. Creating a new downtown area in Muscat, the mixed-use development will establish a new business community, as well as leisure activities for tourists and residents. Madinat Al Irfan also includes the recently opened Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC), which opened last year and, when fully opened in 2018, will be a world-class venue that has been specifically designed to meet the needs of modern global events but framed within rich Omani culture and traditions—a truly unique events venue in the Middle East. At the center of Oman's business development program, OCEC will act as a catalyst for business events in Oman and will have a major impact on the national economy. We have also recently launched Phase I of the Mina Al Sultan Qaboos Waterfront, the regeneration of Muscat's old port, connecting centuries of maritime heritage with a contemporary vision for the new Oman. The project will not only add enhanced lifestyle benefits for residents and visitors to Oman, but will also create up to 12,000 direct and 7,000 indirect jobs across the areas of hotels, residential, F&B, and real estate management. There are other diverse projects in progress as well, such as Ras Al Hadd Development in the eastern region of Oman and the recently opened Anantara Al Baleed Resort in Salalah. Our aim is to create new destinations across the country that will enhance the tourism experience for local, regional, and international visitors, as well as add long-term benefits for local communities and national economy. All of these projects provide long-term investment solutions, which will help Oman's drive to make tourism and infrastructure a key part of its economy. The projects offer secure and sustainable financial returns for investors, which also creates a stable platform for the future prosperity of Oman and its people.

In the past, much development in Oman has focused on luxury accommodation and activities. Is there a strong case for more mid-market projects?

Our aim is to accommodate all tourists in a smart and creative manner, ensuring that all hotels are crafted with an authentic ambiance. Atana Hotels are a perfect example of this; the local hotel chain has a range of three- and four-star properties that reflect the values and culture of the Sultanate. A number of rest houses run by local Omani families, like Misfah Old House at the village of Misfat Al Abryeen, are situated close to key attractions, such as the Al Hoota Cave, and promoted by Omran. Originally traditional homes, they have been transformed to accommodate travelers and provide unparalleled cultural experiences. Also, as Oman gains traction as a central hub for business events in the region, a number of well-known, international hotel brands will open within Madinat Al Irfan and the OCEC precinct, including the Crowne Plaza and JW Marriot hotels, providing more options for business travelers.

Salalah in Dhofar is a growing destination. Where are other locations of interest?

Measuring market trends and pinpointing upcoming areas is a key component of each of our projects. It is great to see areas, such as Salalah in Dhofar, recognized for its natural beauty and unique offerings. One of our key milestones in 2016 was opening the Anantara Al Baleed Resort in Salalah, in partnership with our local partner “Musstir,” one of the leading real estate development and investment firms in the country, as well as adding the Crowne Plaza Salalah to Omran's hospitality portfolio. The Ras Al Hadd Development, which held its groundbreaking last year, is being developed in partnership with the real estate investment company, Qatari Diar. Due for completion by end of 2019, the eco-themed development will feature a number of unique tourist attractions, hotels, residential units, natural parks, a heritage village, and souk, which will celebrate the rich history of Omani culture surrounding Ras Al-Hadd. This eco-friendly development makes a significant contribution toward maintaining the continued growth in the tourism sector and provides many opportunities for SMEs in Oman.

How will Omran continue to work in developing urban communities?

As well as Mina Al Sultan Qaboos Waterfront, we have a number of projects currently under construction including three hotels in Muscat (W Hotel [five star], JW Marriott at OCEC [five star], Crowne Plaza at OCEC [four star], and the completion of the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC). The OCEC is part of the first phase of development of the broader Madinat Al Irfan Urban Development Center. Establishing a new urban center within the heart of Muscat, Madinat Al Irfan will create a new world-class central district that will increase Muscat's international offering, with a financial district, residential, commercial, retail, recreational, and tourist facilities. Through public-private partnerships, the project will offer investors a unique opportunity to partner with the government to realize capital gains, significant inbound revenues, and increased capital retention within the local economy. The flagship project reflects the government strategy in harnessing Oman's tourism potential to help diversify the economy, while creating sustainable jobs for citizens, a significant stimulus for the growing SME sector, and a catalyst for the regeneration of Muscat that creates a positive social impact on generations to come.

What are your plans and expectations for the year ahead?

For 2017, we are focusing our efforts on the progress of Madinat Al Irfan development. One of the key components of the development is the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, which we are currently working on the launch of the next phase. This includes the four-star Crowne Plaza and the five star JW Marriott hotels, to be completed this year along with the Convention Centre and the 3,200-seat auditorium, along with 22,000sqm of exhibition space, and more than 55 different meeting space options. Tourism, and particularly business tourism, is expected to increase significantly in Oman throughout 2017 and beyond. The WTTC stated that Oman is the fastest-growing tourism destination in the Middle East, and with the new Muscat International Airport to be completed and open for an increasing number of international flights by the end of the year, we will have better access to over half of the world's population. We intend to capitalize on the increased flights by creating innovative communities, designed to create memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors to Oman.