WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM’S 9TH SAFEST TOURISM DESTINATION

Oman 2018 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Ahmed bin Nasser Hamad Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, on Oman's competitive advantages, promoting the country in the GCC, and the Frankincense Trail in Salalah.

What are Oman's current comparative and competitive 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 diversified landscape that is characterized by mountains, sand dunes, and an incredible coastline, as well as its adventure activities, rich history and cultural heritage, and luxury hotels are some of its comparative and competitive advantages in tourism. The Sultanate has diverse tourism elements that mix modernity with the past, and meet the desire of tourists who look for a luxury and recreational holiday, as well as keep in mind the interests of those interested in exploring historical, cultural and archaeological landmarks. Oman is often referred to as 'true Arabia', because ancient culture has been so beautifully preserved. In the sultanate one can still find souks selling silver, frankincense and pottery, in the same way as has been customary for thousands of years. That's not all - our people have a well-deserved reputation for being amongst the world's most hospitable. Their smiling faces testify to their eagerness to share our unique culture with visitors, and most travelers to Oman will have at least one story of remarkable Omani hospitality. It is this warm, peaceful culture that has created a society that consistently ranks Oman highly on the annual Global Peace Index; and Oman has also been named the world's 9th safest tourism destination by the World Economic Forum in 2015.

What is the Ministry of Tourism currently doing in order to attract more foreign tourists to Oman?

The Ministry of Tourism 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' vis-a-vis water sports, mountain escapes and luxury hotels. We are also keenly focusing on business travelers, special interest groups, and MICE tourism. To that effect, the Ministry of Tourism has developed a long-term vision for tourism in the Sultanate, by developing a comprehensive strategy, with a clearly defined plan and implementation program. The international listing of the Sultanate as a top tourism destination in the Daily Telegraph, Harper Bazaar Arabia, CNN, Vogue, BuzzFeed and San Francisco Chronicle is a result of the Ministry's continuous efforts to promote the country internationally. The Ministry is working relentlessly to reinforce its status in the tourism industry by developing its policies and strategies to further build the sultanate's brand identity and therefore attract more tourists to the Sultanate, as per Oman Tourism Strategy 2040. Furthermore, the Ministry is actively showcasing Oman's potential as a world-class tourism destination; and our participation in major travels exhibitions such as ITB in Germany, Arab Travel Market in Dubai and World Travel Market in the UK is testimony to this. The main aim behind our marked presence in such events is to engage, discuss and seek the interest of potential travelers to visit the Sultanate and thereby bring more tourism investments into the country.

What regions throughout the Sultanate are the most visited by foreign tourists, and how do you see this evolving in the next year(s)?

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 that is located 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 period from 21st June to 21st September each year; for a unique season called Khareef (Monsoon season). In the coming years, and as the implementation of the Oman Tourism Strategy unfolds, more places of interest will be developed according to the concept of tourism clusters, which will include a number of distinctive and uniquely Omani experiences for visitors.

Which projects, such as the new Muscat International Airport, are expected to further boost the tourism sector in 2018?

More than 3 million tourists visited Oman in 2016. The number of hotel establishments in the Sultanate reached 352 hotel establishments by the 1st of June. This comes as part of the Ministry's efforts to develop the hotel sector in the Sultanate, by increasing the number of hotel rooms and diversifying tourism projects, while establishing tourism facilities in the various governorates of the Sultanate. The Ministry has granted approvals for a further 81 hotel establishments that will supply the sector with 5,279 hotel rooms. These include 38 new hotels in Muscat, three new hotels in Dhofar, seven in North Batinah, and five in South Batinah, along with others throughout the Sultanate.

What are the Ministry's main objectives for 2018?

As a part of its 2020 vision, with the highly anticipated RO1.85 billion Muscat International Airport expected to open at the end of this year, the Sultanate aims to attract more than five million annual visitors to the country. All the facets that make Oman a unique tourist destination – all year round, hence become equally important; as Oman has something to offer for everyone. However, in keeping with the same - our growth strategy for the tourism sector in the medium to long-term is based on the above-mentioned cluster approach and tourism experiences with an Omani touch, reflecting local culture and heritage. Oman will 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 Oman's deserts. Each area will offer accommodation, culinary experiences, transportation and other unique Omani experiences for travelers and tourists with different kinds of budgets.

 

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