FRANKINCENSE, MYRRH, AND MIRTH

Oman 2018 | REAL ESTATE & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, on successful international outreach programs, the most visited parts of the Sultanate, and catering to the tastes of every kind of traveler.

HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi earned his BA in international relations from the Mohammed V University in Morocco in 1988 before beginning his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the next 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.

What are Oman's comparative advantages in tourism over neighboring GCC countries?

Oman is a competitive tourist destination with a fascinating history and culture that dates back well over 5,000 years. Our country's pristine, diverse landscape is dotted with mountains, sand dunes, an incredible coastline, adventure activities, a rich history and cultural heritage, and luxury hotels. The Sultanate has diverse tourism elements that mix modernity with the past and meet the desires of tourists looking for a luxurious and recreational holiday, without neglecting those interested in exploring historical, cultural, and archaeological landmarks. Oman is often referred to as the 'true Arabia,' because its ancient culture has been so beautifully preserved. In the Sultanate, one can still find souks selling silver, frankincense, and pottery as people have for thousands of years. Our people also have a well-deserved reputation for being amongst the world's most hospitable.

What is the Ministry of Tourism doing to attract more foreign tourists?

The ministry is coordinating and collaborating with other countries within and outside the GCC to promote Oman as a unique tourist destination. The Sultanate is being promoted as a year-round destination for tourists by dint of its water sports, mountain escapes, and luxury hotels. We are also keenly focused on business travelers, special interest groups, and MICE tourism. To that effect, the Ministry of Tourism has developed a long-term vision and developed a comprehensive strategy with a clearly defined plan and implementation program. As a result of the ministry's continuous efforts to promote the country internationally, the Sultanate has been listed as a top destination in the Daily Telegraph, Harper Bazaar Arabia, CNN, Vogue, BuzzFeed, and San Francisco Chronicle. We have also participated in major travel exhibitions such as ITB in Germany, the Arab Travel Market in Dubai, and the World Travel Market in the UK.

Which regions are the most visited by foreign tourists and will they continue to be?

Al Jabal Al Akhdhar (the Green Mountain) in the Wilayat of Nizwa; Jabal Shams, located in the Wilayat of Al Hamra in the Governorate of Al Dakhiliyah; Al Kasfa Spring; Wadi Bani Khalid, one of the most famous valleys of the Governorate of North Al Sharqiyah; and Wadi Dhiqah, another beautiful valley in the Wilayat of Quriyat, are some of the most popular tourist regions in the Sultanate. Another popular and important tourist site is the Governorate of Dhofar, which is famous during the monsoon season.
Which projects are most expected to boost the sector in 2018?
More than 3 million tourists visited Oman in 2016. The number of hotel establishments in the Sultanate reached 352 by June as a result of the ministry's efforts to develop the hotel sector. The ministry has granted approvals for a further 81 hotel establishments that will supply the sector with 5,279 rooms. These include 38 new hotels in Muscat, three new hotels in Dhofar, seven in North Batinah, and five in South Batinah, among others.

What are the ministry's main objectives for 2018?

As a part of its 2020 Vision, when the highly anticipated USD4.8 billion Muscat International Airport is expected to open at the end of this year, the Sultanate aims to attract more than 5 million annual visitors to the country. Everything that makes it a year-round destination will come into play, since Oman has something for everyone. Our cluster approach combining the Omani touch and reflecting local culture and heritage will help Oman continue to highlight various areas such as the unique coastal area of Musandam; the Hajar Mountains; the Frankincense Trail in Salalah; cosmopolitan culture in Muscat, and adventure activities in the desert. Each area will offer accommodation, culinary experiences, transportation, and other unique Omani experiences for travelers of every budget.