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Oman urged to differentiate itself to attract tourists

Oman Creative Commons/Anto500
Oman should look to diversify its offering to tourists
  • Oman should grow eco, wellness, adventure and agri tourism
  • Balloon company plans attraction in Sharqiyah Sands area 
  • A 3.5km cable car project is scheduled to launch

Oman should look to a combination of eco, wellness, adventure and agri tourism to differentiate itself from its GCC neighbours, according to an industry expert.

The sultanate, which was significantly hit by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, is renowned for its eclectic mix of picturesque wadis, caves, beaches and mountain ranges.

It is also a popular hotspot for regional and international tourists seeking ancient culture and heritage.

Thuku Kimani, manager of hotels in the Mena region for Colliers, said: “Given the growing competitiveness among GCC nations in the tourism and hospitality industry, Oman can truly distinguish itself from other regional peers by concentrating and developing its eco, wellness, adventure and agri tourism offering.”

He told AGBI that destinations such as Salalah, Jebel Akhdar, Jebel Shams, Al Hajjar Mountains and Nizwa are among the Oman tourist attractions offering the opportunity to boost visitor numbers.

Oman was one of the worst countries in the GCC to be affected by Covid-19. Swift action to curtail the virus, followed by lengthy lockdown periods, resulted in tourist numbers dropping by more than 80 percent between 2019 and 2021.

Yet recovery is on the way. In the first 11 months of 2022, the number of visitors arriving in the country reached 2.5 million, according to data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information.

This is expected to reach 2019 numbers (3.5 million) by 2024, according to Said Harib Al Obidani, director general of tourism development at the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.

The sultanate’s plans for tourism are directed through its National Tourism Strategy 2040, launched in 2016. 

Strategic objectives include generating 500,000 jobs, of which 75 percent will be Omani nationals; attracting OMR20 billion ($52 billion) in investments, over 85 percent from the private sector; achieving 11.7 million domestic and international tourists, and targeting and developing 80,000 hospitality keys. 

“With recovery from the pandemic in full force, the sultanate is well placed to capitalise on tourism opportunities within the country, of which adventure and eco, wellness and agri tourism attractions will play a significant role,” said Kimani.

Adding to its adventure offerings, last month Oman’s Civil Aviation Authority gave a permit to the Royal Balloon Company, a partnership between an Omani and Turkish company, to operate in the Sharqiyah Sands area.

A 3.5km cable car project for the Darbat area of Dhofar is also scheduled to launch to the public this year.

Dr Sean Lochrie, assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said: “The rise in adventure tourism has been an important part of Oman’s movement towards a sustainable tourism economy.”

According to researchandmarkets.com the global adventure tourism market size was valued at £288 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow to $2,824 billion by 2030.

Sammy Musa, CEO of Dubai-based Gulf Reps, said the popularity of adventure tourism across the region – from Hatta and Jebel Jais in the UAE through to the Tuwaiq cliffs, Al Ahsa Oasis and Jabal Abyad in Saudi Arabia – meant that Oman was competing in a crowded marketplace.

He said: “The majority of adventure activities available in Oman are available in other parts of the GCC and in some cases infrastructure for activities such as hiking or paragliding are more defined in other parts of the region. 

“In order to stand out Oman will need to define its unique offerings, build the relevant infrastructure and market this globally.”

NCSI figures show that 1.4 million GCC citizens visited Oman through to November last year, followed by 292,000 from India, 98,000 from Yemen, 65,000 from Pakistan and 57,000 from Germany.

Ali Manzoor, head of hotels and tourism at CBRE Middle East, said: “If the right sites are found, destination resorts that offer an experiential offering are likely to perform.”

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