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Oman 2019 | TOURISM | FOCUS: WELLNESS TOURISM

Oman represents one of the most fascinating and complete wellness tourism destinations, and fortunately, the country is taking the right steps to realize the vast potential and diversify the domestic economy.

By definition, wellness tourism is any travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one's personal well-being; however, wellness tourism is as wide ranging as the travel industry itself. The global wellness industry is now worth more than USD4.2 trillion, up from USD3.7 trillion in 2015, with wellness tourism experiencing a 6.5% annual growth, more than double the growth rate for tourism, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

Wellness tourism alone grew from a USD563-billion market in 2015 to a USD639-billion one in 2017, and it is forecasted to grow even faster, at 7.5%, through 2022 to reach USD919 billion. A special focus of the GWI's research is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and it highlights that while domestic tourists across the globe make up 33% of wellness travel revenues, the domestic market represents 68% revenue in the MENA region. Notably, while the UAE and Morocco remain regional powerhouses, Oman is improving its offerings and developing tourism-related infrastructure to emerge as a solid competitor. For a start, Oman's monsoon season and cool mountain areas offer a respite from the hot summer for GCC tourists, and when accompanied with turtle watching and cultural and heritage experiences, the country presents a truly unique destination for wellness tourists of all sorts.

Given the Sultanate's natural, cultural, and hospitality-related attributes, industry experts say Oman possesses all the qualities to become the wellness tourism capital of the Middle East in the long term. Already, wellness tourism has grown in Oman at an annual rate of 10.9% since 2012, managing to attract 130,000 wellness and spa trips in 2017. This success was long due just because of the sheer number of new spa and wellness centers that have opened in Oman's cities and deserts. Both the public and private sectors have identified that on average a wellness tourist spends 130% more than the normal tourist, pushing forward the case for the potential of wellness tourism to boost Oman's tourism sector and related industries, including the real estate industry.

To that end, the government has been mobilizing investors to focus on building spas and wellness facilities for different income brackets. For high-end clients, the National Program for Enhancing Economic Diversification's (Tenfeedh) Implementation Support and Follow-up Unit (ISFU) has designed a strategy to build iconic tourism projects and wellness properties across Oman. Four projects have so far been planned for Muscat, namely Mount Wellness District, Oman Riviera, Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront, and Al Mouj.

Chief among them is the Mount Wellness District. Located near Muscat International Airport, it will offer multiple levels of public and private activities and lifestyles, providing a 180-degree view of Muscat from one of the city's highest mountain platforms. Elsewhere, the Sultanate's luxury hotels are also gearing up to claim a piece of the pie. These include the Six Senses Zighy Bay, which offers mountains on one side and a private beach on the other, the Al Bustan by Ritz-Carlton, and the Anantara Al Jebel Al Akhdar Resort, among others. Meanwhile, for the middle market, investors are pursuing the idea of midmarket integrated tourism complexes (ITCs). These complexes will not only drive the tourism sector's hospitality and wellness offerings but also drive the demand for housing.

To top it all off, Oman's vast dunes offer the unique hot sand therapy that cannot be duplicated anywhere in the world as it uses the natural elements of the Middle East and herbs and materials found only in Oman. Inspired by ancient Egyptian's wellness practices, the therapy takes place in an Uru, which is a strategically constructed spa area with an open access to the sky. It combines two types of spa experiences—detox and healing—that contribute to one's wellness, not only in terms of bone injuries and heart concerns, but also regular bouts of stress and insomnia.
These are the kind of experiences that make Oman one of the cornerstones of the booming global wellness tourism market.