Six expatriates who lived and worked in the Sultanate share their personal experiences on the occasion of Oman’s 50th National Day. They reflect on the progress the country achieved and how they feel having been part of its Renaissance march. Prof Mike Searle, Dr Gerhard Heck, Anita Gustafson, Susan Bagyura, Dagmar Symes and P K Thomas from different backgrounds and nationalities talk about their nostalgic memories to Observer.
Prof Mike Searle, Oxford University, UK: Oman remains a beacon of political stability and compromise, and its non-aligned status has served it extremely well; indeed, it is a policy that the rest of the World should learn from.
In all this development it is crucial to preserve the country’s natural heritage, including archaeological, wildlife, scenic and geological sites. Where many other countries have largely destroyed their heritage sites with excessive and unnecessary developments built in the wrong place, Oman remains a unique exception.
In July 1970, I was a schoolboy out in Oman on summer holidays with my parents. My father worked for PDO for 12 years from 1968 and my mother was the Reuters correspondent, and also worked in the Muttrah Mission Hospital with Don Bosch and colleagues. When late Sultan Qaboos stepped off the plane at the landing strip in Ruwi, the only building in the Ruwi valley was the army fort at Bait al Falaj.
Muttrah and Muscat were old medieval mud brick towns with forts and watchtowers on every hill and city gates that closed at sunset. There were no roads, no schools, but only one hospital, the Mission in Muttrah, for the entire country.
When the country opened up we used to explore the mountains, desert and coastline at every opportunity, and found a wonderful landscape, with a wealth of treks, climbs, dives and incredible off-road drives with villages full of extremely hospitable and polite people. I returned to Oman almost every year since, carrying out geological fieldwork for my PhD, and then during my academic career.
Susan Bagyura, United States: The Sultanate exerts great efforts in the elaboration of strategic visions in the matters pertaining to current Arab situations. In addition, the Sultanate prides itself on adhering to its Islamic identity that informs its policy, which is based on moderation and tolerance in its civilisational and cultural exchange; it spares no efforts to promote love and peace among all nations and peoples, and condemns all forms of extremism, terrorism and violence.
Having a mission that is much greater than self, the country and the region says everything about Oman and its people.
Dr Gerhard Heck, Germany: I visited the Sultanate for the first time in 1979 when I was working as a professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, when the German Consul in Jeddah asked me to join him for an official trip. The country, its impressive landscapes and not least the warm hospitality of the people fascinated me. On this trip I kept a diary about the historic places we visited, as well as various interesting cultural aspects, the Bedouin people and the beautiful wadis between Sur and Muscat, which in those days were still very difficult to reach.
The Sultanate is well-known as a safe, hospitable and culturally rich tourism destination. I provide German-speaking visitors with a very intense preparation for their destination of Oman, and try to fine-tune their expectations.
On the other hand, during my research in Oman, tour operators frequently ask me how they might improve their offering to appeal more to German tourists. Generally this involves improvements to personalised services, or how they might most appropriately react to certain individual visitors. Thanks to frequent feedback from my readers about their travels in Oman, I have been able to give my Omani friends useful practical information how they might further improve the satisfaction their visitors receive.
P K Thomas, India: Oman is a heaven on earth as I have always admired the hospitality of its citizens. Oman exhibits the most humble and welcoming brotherhood, which I observed from my very first day in this country.
The majestic beauty of its mountains immediately overwhelmed my heart when I arrived in 1979. It is this kind of peaceful and accepting culture that makes Oman one of the safest and most liveable countries in the world. The kind nature of Omanis is reflected in the generous hospitality extended to guests. In all honesty, my time in Oman has been most memorable and satisfying.
It is truly mesmerising to have witnessed the exponential growth and evolution of this great country as we see today.
The country was blessed with the wisest of leadership, a true visionary in late Sultan Qaboos. In 1979, we had very few roads spanning Muscat and few facilities, now one of the cleanest countries in the world.
Its natural beauty cannot be ignored with its lovely wadis, deserts, pristine beaches and mountains. The tourism opportunity in Oman is abundant. Year after year we see more and more tourists wanting to explore this country and returning back for further visits. I believe.
Dagmar Symes, Saudi Arabia: An unexplored eden, the Sultanate is home to a vast realm with its extensive coastline, alluring deserts and graceful mountains. The Sultanate itself has been getting more and more exposure as a prime travel destination in the Middle East and expected to attain an increasing positive growth in the next couple of years.
However, a constricting factor of COVID-19, has somewhat shifted the tourism component in restricting travel to a bare minimum, thus impacting the main revenue lifeline.
As tourism is one of the main pillars of the government’s vision, educational institutions need to adjust their curriculum and academic portfolio to accommodate the rising demand for hospitality and tourism specialists.
Anita Gustafson, Sweden: The beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people in Oman made an impression on me. I also appreciate the fantastic and unspoiled nature of Oman. Late Sultan Qaboos who was behind its modern development always thought of keeping Oman’s history and their old buildings original.
Muscat is nicely developed with beautiful hotels and restaurants. As a visitor you can take part in the history of the country at interesting museums and forts. Also visit the Souq where you can find nice handmade Omani things.
I worked and lived in Muscat with my husband during 1996-99 as General Manager for KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines and was the first female General Manager who came from a country abroad. I appreciated that the Omani ladies were encouraged to work by late Sultan Qaboos in 1997. I had then employed five ladies who should work in our ticket office proudly wearing the KLM female uniform.
When living in Oman I invited a lot of travel agents from Scandinavia and The Netherlands. They were all impressed about the country and are still promoting the Sultanate in every possible way.