SAILING TOWARD SUCCESS

Oman 2020 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

Oman Sail is on track to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and realize Oman's adventure tourism potential in a sustainable way.

David Graham
BIOGRAPHY

David Graham is the former CEO of Oman Sail, a national initiative that was established to contribute to the development of Oman and its people through the sport of sailing. He has more than 20 years of experience in the sports industry. As CEO, he established a globally recognized brand that has brought some of the most prestigious sailing races to Oman and successfully established national youth, women, and offshore sailing teams. These teams have represented the country internationally and won multiple sailing medals and titles, including two world records.

What were the main highlights for Oman Sail in 2019?
2019 was a phenomenal year, both on and off the water. On the sailing front, our athletes were crowned Asian champions, while the youth team won a bronze and a silver medal at the Arab and Asian championships. Our main focus remains looking after the sailors, to ensure they have the necessary coaching and support to compete at the international level. In addition, our youth sailing department is now fully Omanized, which is a major milestone. Off the water, our main drive has been organizing sports tourism and sports events. We believe that sports tourism can have a major positive impact on the economy and society.

How would you assess the impact of sport tourism on the overall socio-economic texture of the country?
Going forward, sports tourism can have a major positive impact under an economic, social and societal point of view, taking a more prominent place in society in the next couple of years. Since participants, spectators, and investors are already out there, the support of the media sector could really add up to the already visible societal impact. Indeed, these elements craft a national profile that will, on the one hand, attract FDI, and, on the other, increase savings by promoting an active lifestyle, which will counter the rise in non-communicable diseases, a real issue in the Sultanate over the last three years.

How do you think sports activities can become sustainable in the long run?
Sports tourism is a robust sector that is resilient through economic downturns. If Oman can select the right sports and engage a sufficient number of people to work together within a framework of sustainability, we can create a positive impact on a mass scale. Many countries are using the sector as an economic stimulus. In New Zealand, sports and adventure tourism contributes as much as the oil and gas sector in Oman, giving an indication of the scale of value and potential the sector can provide. Oman's sport selection criteria determine a number of sustainable factors such as working to achieve a flow of inbound tourists and putting frameworks to utilize and showcase the country's tourism offerings without having to spend significantly on infrastructure. In addition, the strategy is to organize events effectively and efficiently while ensuring that they generate profit within four years. A key sustainability element that is taken into great consideration is ensuring that the spectacular natural landscapes of the country aren't impacted.

How are you seeking to achieve economic sustainability and engage with the broader community?
Economic sustainability comes when the income from an event is higher than the cost. For example, Al Mouj Muscat Marathon 2020, which featured 10,000 runners from 102 countries, reached a break-even point. Upward growth opportunities can be generated through local and international participation and through funding from sponsors and partners. At a corporate level, we have a successful initiative with SOHAR Port to encourage kids from the communities where they operate to take on the challenge. After years of organizing the event, the culture of running is being adopted as an integral part of healthy living, which, in the long term, will lessen the burden on the national health system.

How would you assess the engagement of youth, and how will that determine the future of sports in Oman?
Youth are more independently taking the decision to engage in sports, and we are seeing a coordinated effort by various ministries and stakeholders. In 20 years, the sport ecosystem in Oman will be driven by the education sector. Indeed, the initiatives being run through the schools are proving to be really popular and the schools themselves are very receptive. There is plenty of compelling research showing that kids who intake more oxygen perform better.