Oman Observer

Tourism celebrates culture and heritage

The tourism sector is one of the growing industries that has a promising future in contributing to the national GDP as well as create job opportunities. The major strength of Sultanate is its security and stability and the balancing of heritage and modernization.

2018 has seen the international recognition of its architectural heritage that came in the form of UNESCO announcing the ancient city of Qalhat as part of the World Heritage List.

On its website, UNESCO describes places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengiti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage.  “What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located,” UNESCO states.

Qalhat, surrounded by inner and outer walls, as well as areas beyond the ramparts where necropolis is located. The city was a major port on the east coast of Arabia between the 11th and 15th centuries CE. Giving it the importance of world heritage is the fact that, “it bears unique archaeological testimony to the trade links between the east coast of Arabia, East Africa, India, China and South-east Asia”.

Just like Al Baleed of Dhofar Governorate, Qalhat could be a major tourism attraction.

Cultural tourism is gaining momentum in the Sultanate. Measures taken during the Renaissance in protecting heritage and investing in archaeological sites are fruit. Mirbat Fort is another prime example that has come into focus this year with the Ministry of Tourism adding the fort to the list of cultural tourist attractions and opening it on time for the Khareef season.

The ministry has been preparing castles and forts to promote cultural tourism.

Keeping up with the strategy, the ministry has been successfully renovating many castles and forts in various governorates to be opened for the public.

The architectural masterpiece is situated 80 km from the centre of Salalah.

Strategically located on the coast of the Wilayat of Mirbat overlooking the Arabian Sea, the fort was originally built to protect the wilayat and its inhabitants.

According to historical sources, it was built in the 13th Century AH/19th Century AD. It was constructed on the orders of the Sultan Said bin Taimur for the fortification on the northern side after the 1948 floods.

The impact of cultural tourism is also on the local communities. Traditional crafts of the local community and historical, geological, architectural and social life have been showcased through media and technology. There is also a traditional Mirbat market or souq as well as a port from where frankincense and horses were exported to India and China.

The Ministry of Tourism has made a lot of effort to collect and document historical information and present it to the tourists visiting the fort.

The seasons in Oman have their implications on tourism potential. Traditionally tourism season used to be the winter season. The monsoon season in Salalah and the coolness of Jabal Akhdar have been showcasing the potential of tourism in summer.

A total of 34,695 tourists visited Salalah in the second week of Khareef season between June 28 and July 4. This shows a substantial growth of 87 per cent over the same period of last year when 18,555 tourists visited Dhofar. There was a 55.3 per cent growth in tourist arrivals in the first week of the Khareef season this year, when the number of tourists stood at 22,342, according to the latest data released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).

One of the assets of tourism in Oman is also the road network because the statistics showed that 26,052 tourists, constituting 75.1 per cent of the total tourists during the second week, came by road.

The Ministry of Tourism launched the 2018 summer campaign under the theme, ‘Discover Beauty of Oman’, with 51 hotels taking part by offering attractive packages during the season in a bid to benefit from unique tourist potentials of the Sultanate during summer.

The campaign was launched on May 21. It focused on moderate temperature zones in many locations such as Jabal Shams, Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Al Ashkhara Beach and a number of villages and valleys as well as the beaches stretching across Al Wusta Governorate.

The campaign aims at activating the domestic tourism movement and attracting visitors from GCC citizens and residents, in addition to highlighting the tourist sites that can be visited during summer.

Major plans are on to develop tourism sites in the Governorate of North Al Batinah by establishing a real partnership between government institutions and private sector. The ministry has offered lands for investment in the tourism sector as per the terms and conditions of usufruct, he said.

The ministry is also studying the requirements for hotels and other recreational and tourist activities in the governorate, which has a huge potential for a range of tourism activities, thanks to its diversity.

Work on two projects has begun. These include a three-star hotel in the Wilayat of Shinas in Al Aqr area and an environmental tourist camp in the Wilayat of Saham in Al Samaida area near Al Batinah Highway.

He said the other concept distinct in the governorate is the green hostel. These are farms scattered across the governorate and have the Omani system of irrigation and plantations.

Al Hajar mountain ranges and soft sandy beaches are some of the top tourist attractions in the governorate, besides heritage sites such as castles, forts, towers, cemeteries and souqs.

Its historical buildings date back to the Portuguese era. The fort houses a museum, which was opened in 1993. It narrates the history of Suhar and other such sites in Oman.

Al Dakhiliyah is one of four governorates identified by the Ministry for development into a distinctive heritage destinations based on their unique tourism and natural attributes. The other three are Musandam, Muscat and South Al Shariqyah governorates which, along with Al Dakhiliyah, are being prioritized for early development to support the Ministry’s domestic tourism strategies.

Al Dakhiliyah has Unesco-listed forts castles, aflaj systems and traditional villages.  The Bahla Fort has its importance at world heritage level. UNESCO describes it like this, “The immense, Bahla Fort, with its walls and towers of mud brick on stone foundations and the adjacent Friday Mosque with its decoratively sculpted prayer niche (mihrab) dominate the surrounding mud-brick settlement and palm grove.”

An agreement was signed by Ministry of Tourism and Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) Company to develop sustainable tourism aactivities at Al Haqaf site in the Governorate of Al Wusta.