SARNGADHARAN NAMBIAR –
Numerous wadis and oases, sandy beaches of pristine charm, majestic rolling mountain ranges, date-palm groves, small farms, aflaj water systems, ancient villages where life happens in perfect harmony with nature, deserts that can be as spellbinding as the Empty Quarter, prehistoric caves, architecturally marvelous adobe buildings that may disappear anytime, oryx, dolphins, camels, mangroves and indigenous flora…the Sultanate is like no other place.
Though Oman is categorised as a relatively underrated destination in the Gulf region, it is globally recognised as a hidden gem. A recent story on the Sultanate in the UK’s Telegraph headlined ‘Make a date with the world’s most underrated winter sun destination’ says it all.
The government’s efforts at removing this ‘underrated’ tag for Oman and promoting it as a premium tourist destination that offers unique and fulfilling experiences to visitors have started bearing fruit. Awareness about the tourism potential of the Sultanate is rising. Part of this success is due to the Ministry of Tourism’s (MoT) deft handling of its social media accounts across platforms titled ‘Experience Oman’.
MoT-Oman operates Experience Oman in six languages — Arabic, English, French, Italian, German and Dutch, showcasing the Sultanate as a major tourist destination in the international markets. It is present on all social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, offering bewitching images and useful descriptions of various destinations, candid experiences of visitors, and the rich cultural aspects of the Sultanate that could help tourists make informed decisions. These accounts are followed by millions across the world. Notably, the ministry won the Arab Social Networking Influencers Award for 2017 for its strategic use of social media to promote Oman’s tourism sector.
Meanwhile, there have been appreciable individual efforts — by Omanis and expatriates — at showcasing and popularising this gem of a destination as well. Muftah, from Tuinisa, is one of the many who have been enamoured by the splendour of the Jewel of Arabia. Ever since he set foot on the Sultanate four years ago, he has been on a quest to explore its diverse destinations. His Instagram posts carrying outstanding images and simple descriptions of places of great tourist value boast over 10,000 followers including a great number of Omanis.
“From the comments on my Instagram account, I learnt that there are several places that are either completely unknown to, or not so familiar with, a section of Omanis, leave alone expats,” Muftah said.
Surprisingly, he is inundated with requests from Omanis and others living in and outside Oman to enlighten them about ‘hidden’ as well as popular places in the Sultanate. “I always look for interesting and unique elements in a destination that haven’t been highlighted so far. Maybe, this is why my posts are appreciated and reviewed well,” he continued.
He has already posted thousands of not-seen-before pictures of destinations such as Sur, Salalah, Wadi Bani Khalid, Tal al Khoud (on the Oman-Yemen border), Al Ashkara etc.
Muftah, who runs his own real estate marketing agency in Muscat, is working on a project to better promote the tourism potential of the Sultanate by identifying and visiting as many of them as possible this year. A key element of this project would be an Oman Travel Forum where like-minded writers, photographers, artists and tourists from Oman and across the world can join forces to promote the country among travellers who look for fresh and rewarding travel experiences.
His immediate project is to undertake a deep exploratory tour of Bahla, Hamra and Misfat al Abriyeen.
Social media is increasingly being used as an effective and easily accessible tool by a growing number of travel writers and photographers to share their unique experiences with the world, as are governments that use it to boost nation-branding and position their countries as the best destination.
Experts feel that the social media has kind of democratised the tourism industry by empowering people to write and share reviews and feedbacks. It is learnt that as many as 89 per cent of millennials plan their travel activities based on social media content including comments posted by their peers, while over 97 per cent share their travel photos and videos online, generating a rich repository of tourism-related content freely accessible to all.
While positive reviews need to be curated and shared widely, negative ones should alert authorities to take remedial action. Either way, the Sultanate’s tourism sector stands to gain immensely from social media in so far as nation-branding and wooing tourists are concerned.