Oman’s tourism industry is mainly boosted by local visitors travelling around the country and less than a third of the business is generated by international tourists.
Statistics from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) show that a revenue of RO 909.1 million in 2017 was generated by domestic tourism compared to only RO 342.3 millions from international visitors.
There is a reason for that. The country is not promoting enough to international tourism its history, heritage and rich culture. It is not enough to say Oman’s stability and security is the plus point. Tourists would want to come to the country to see something they don’t normally see in other countries. Extensive promotions in major exhibition centres, conferences and advertisements on televisions around the world would pay rich dividends to Oman’s tourism drive.
Yes, Oman has pristine beaches, landmark monuments and colourful history. It is also true that successful long-term tourism depends on authenticity and its people. But for tourists to know that these attractions are available, more efforts need to be done on promotion and marketing internationally.
Experts have maintained in the past that Oman has amazing sightseeing areas that date back for centuries but that needs to be shown worldwide.
It is not about checking them in the hotels and drive them around but telling them why they should be here in the first place. Although there was a jump of 7 per cent of inbound tourists in the country last year compared to the previous year, the industry still does not reach them where they live or give them enough reason to come here.
The hotel occupancy and bookings of desert safaris still depend on domestic tourism. The Salalah Khareef is also mainly supported by Omanis and local residents who make up the bulk of visitors in the southern resort.
The people of Oman come from different diversities. The wealth of cultures in different governorates of Oman are different as well. The heritage is centuries long. In some areas of Oman, it is more than a thousand years old.
The history, that spans from the early days of Islam, has no parallel from most regional countries, except Saudi Arabia.
Yet, there is no comprehensive campaign globally to put Oman in the world map of tourism. The country relies on sporadic promotions that has very little effect. It reflects on the number of inbound tourists we get every year on average.
Oman attracted only about 1.2 million total foreign tourists last year. They spent an average of about of RO 105 rials per tourist only. It is very modest in international standard.
In comparison, tourists in Dubai spent nearly $30 billion in 2017. It is a result of a huge annual promotional campaign around the world. On top of us, Dubai stages many international events to pull in visitors globally.
However, heritage coupled with excellent infrastructure in the hospitality industry and road network, needs also to be considered in the equation. Oman also needs to create authentic experience of its native people to give the tourism industry a boost. If heritage is a tourist puller, the country needs to involve more Omanis in the tourism industry as well.
There are not enough Omanis working in the hotels or restaurants. Even in the desert tours, very few Omanis are guides. Tourists want to see Omani sitting under the night sky telling tales about their countries. Also, they want Omanis cooking local dishes. The misconception that Omanis are not skilled enough in the tourism industry is not valid. Or in some quarters, people say that Omanis do not work hard enough is not a good excuse to get them not involved.
To see a big future in the tourism industry, a revamp of old ways is needed to generate new ideas, particularly how the country is promoted.