TBY talks to HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, on the Sultanate's ninth Five-Year Plan, the region's world-class natural sites, and growing the sector to employ more Omanis.

HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi
HE Ahmed bin Nasser Hamad Al Mahrizi earned his degree in international relations from the Mohammed V University in Morocco in 1988 before beginning his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the following 20-plus years, HE Al Mahrizi served as ambassador to countries including Algeria, Ghana, Kazakhstan, France, and Portugal. In addition, he has held Chairmanships and Board Memberships in numerous official bodies including the Salalah Free Zone Company, the Oman Investment Fund, and the Oman Tourism Development Company.

Oman's ninth Five-Year Plan has made tourism a significant priority. What areas need further development?

Tourism has been identified as one of the future key pillars of Oman's economy. The Ministry of Tourism recently finalized its new long-term strategy, spanning 2016-2040, which will see the development of tourism clusters and unique experiences. This will require a rigorous implementation of tourism strategy plans in terms of management, human resource development, infrastructure, and employment. At this stage, detailed master plans are being formulated, making it easy and convenient for the private sector, both local and foreign, to identify attractive projects for potential investment. Additionally, important steps are being taken in terms of procedures facilitation and timeliness of approvals.

Oman has various world-class natural sites for tourism. How will these be made more accessible to international tourists?

The Oman Tourism Strategy calls for the creation of tourism attractions grouped by clusters and itineraries. These will include both natural sites and new developments such as resorts, parks, hotels, and more. The management of the rollout of such new projects will focus on quality enhancement, environmental sustainability, and distinctiveness. In addition, the promotion of Oman, locally, regionally, and internationally, will be based on two strategic pillars: digital marketing and public relations. With the pace of the development of technology and increasing accessibility, we will easily reach the specific target groups we aim to attract: leisure seekers, adventure visitors, sport lovers, as well as business people. The exposure and visibility of the Sultanate will be sharp and focused to maximize effectiveness and sustainability.

The sector has incredible potential to employ Omanis, both through government initiatives and SMEs. How does the ministry work to boost local involvement in the sector?

The tourism sector aims at creating more than half a million jobs by 2040, direct and indirect, most of which will be for Omanis. To ensure the effectiveness of such an ambitious goal, educational and training initiatives are planned. Also, hundreds of new SMEs will be required to support the industry over its development process. Specific jobs and SME categories have been identified.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

Our new tourism strategy is ready for implementation. This coming year will be focused on planning and organization. Simultaneously, tourism development quick-win projects are in the pipeline. We hope to create a solid foundation for what has now been universally recognized as the next major sector of the Omani economy.