Scholar highlights impacts of mass cruise tourism on local communities

MUSCAT, Sept 1 – The impacts of large-scale cruise tourism in Oman were highlighted at an international conference held in Quebec, Canada, recently. The presenter was Muscat-based Tourism Geographer Dr Manuela Gutberlet, who is also PR Manager at the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech). The conference, titled ‘Tourism Geographies’, was organised by the International Geography Union (IGU) Commission on Tourism and Leisure and Global Change in cooperation with Laval University in Quebec. The pre-conference was followed by the leading International Geography Conference of the International Geography Union (IGU), themed ‘Appreciating Difference’, held in Quebec. More than 1,500 geographers participated in that conference.
Cruise tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in tourism, with Asia and the Middle East representing an emerging market. Around 26 million tourists travelled with a cruise liner worldwide last year. Cruise tourism has increased in scale and scope in Oman in recent years.
According to the official statistics only 25 ships carrying nearly 8,000 passengers arrived in 2005 in Muscat whereas seven years later in 2012 more than 250,000 tourists arrived. “Over the past twenty years the cruise liner itself has turned into the main destination whereas the port of travel has become secondary,” said Dr Manuela.
Muttrah Souq is the oldest, main market place in the Sultanate, an ancient trading hub for the retail and wholesale of goods from abroad and from the interior of the country, located just opposite to the cruise terminal in Muscat.
“The souq has been growing and adapting organically, reflecting collective memories of the past as a trading hub for many generations, while serving the local resident and expatriate community. The arrival of large-scale cruise ships has started changing the identity or character of the place. I have investigated the social and cultural impacts on the place, the local multi-ethnic community and the German-speaking tourists visiting the souq.”
Dr Manuela’s research is based on quantitative methods, a questionnaire survey among German-speaking cruise tourists as well as qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews and observations conducted between 2012 and 2015 in Muttrah Souq.
“My results indicate that the core of souq, which includes the Sea Road and the main tourist streets inside the souq, has developed into a ‘tourist bubble’, serving predominantly to international cruise tourists. For instance, fast-food restaurants and cheap souvenirs shops were established. In addition, crowding and the behaviour shift of vendors are major problems, when one large or two large cruises are in the port, which is similar to other cruise ports in Europe. As a consequence, in Muttrah Souq the resident community and individual and group tourists avoid the souq when a large cruise ship is in the port. The local well-established vendor community from Oman and abroad is increasingly less involved. They adjust to the influx of tourists. Some relocate their shops to the borders of the souq or they leave the souq and sell their licence.
“A ‘new multi-ethnic Asian vendor community’ is shaping the souq with their products, identities and selling attitudes, while Omanis and their products are increasingly marginalised,” said Dr Manuela. To promote local Omani handicraft, the Public Authority for Craft Industries has set up a ‘small mobile shop’ in the souq recently.
In order to limit the impact on the local community in Muttrah, Dr Manuela calls for limits on mega-cruise tourism in Muscat, as well as engagement with the different stakeholders of the local multi-ethnic community in the entire planning process for the new upcoming cruise liner port and the waterfront project including the souq.
In her view, a participatory approach that involves the different voices should be established while empowering the long-established community and their genuine products.
“The growth of tourism always comes with its own set of risks for destination communities and environments. Therefore, pro-active planning and efficient governance approaches are much needed in the development of tourism, and not only the positive, but also the negative aspects of the growing industry should be carefully considered,” said Prof Dr Jarkko Saarinen, Professor at the Department of Geography at University of Oulu (Finland) and at the University of Johannesburg.