Ray Petersen -
Times have changed. Oh, how they have changed. Once upon a time when we went on a ‘holiday,’ it was to relax, chill out, do nothing and recharge our batteries. But the new generation appears to want much more today.
According to a survey by respected tourism gurus, TripAdvisor, in 2013, the three key tourist requirements were in-room Wi-Fi, free parking and breakfast included in the room rate. Now that’s fairy mundane isn’t it, and incidentally exactly matches my own search parameters when I go online to find a hotel. I must admit too, that having someone ‘speak your language’ is a nice touch too. But that’s only as far as the accommodation goes. What do tourists want to do when they get there?
The 15 national parks in the United Kingdom are home to thousands of hectares of magnificent countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. Their recent survey found that their clientele want all that the parks offer, and rated the physical activity highly, but most of all they treasured the peace and quiet, and the ability to “refresh their body and mind” while experiencing their opportunity to commune with nature.
The National Geographic Visitor Centre at the amazing Grand Canyon in the United States is experiencing a massive increase in demand for interactive tourist experiences like steam rail trains, hiking tours, rafting trips, skydiving, horseback and mule riding trips. But a new development has been the development of artistically and sympathetically designed structures, allowing visitors a much more ‘au naturel’ experience.
South America has become a young tourist’s destination today, and of course, they all want to visit the Andes, the Amazon, and the rain forests, but what of Brazil’s Geopark Paleorrota, which is home to the ‘Highway of Dinosaurs’ from 200 million years ago. Look at countries like Nicaragua, where you can skateboard down a volcano at Cerro Negro, or hike in the clouds in the Esteli National Park? Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Islands, and Peru’s Machu Pichu, and that’s without mentioning the tango, salsa, or ‘Carnivale.’
Europe, of course, is home to Vatican tours, the Colosseum, Big Ben, Barcelona FC, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Trevi Fountain, Cathedral de Notre Dame, the Louvre, Madam Tussauds, the Thinker, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum of Natural History, the canals of Venice, Murano glass, Oktoberfest, the Uffizi Gallery, Fish’n’chips, Ann Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, Prague’s Astronomical clock, and thousands more rivers, mountains, and culinary delights.
New Zealand has re-labelled its tourism as “100% Pure,” interactive and cultural tourism. Of course, we have scenery ‘to die for,’ with Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, Fiordland, the Bay of Islands, Rotorua’s Geothermal Park, Abel Tasman National Park, and the famed City of Sails, Auckland, all visually exciting. But it’s the interactive activities like the Mitai Maori Village, Waitangi Treaty house, Te Papa, Lord of the Rings locations, panning for gold, hair-raising jet boat rides and white-water rafting, bungy-jumping, zip-lining, sailing, hiking, diving, fishing, whale-watching, and the piece-de-resistance, swimming with dolphins, that are most treasured by tourists.
Today, tourists don’t just want to see things, or even to do things, but they want a complete holistic cerebral and physical experience. See it, touch it, feel it, do it, experience it, live it and be it.
I see so many opportunities for Oman in this form of tourism. Morocco has its ‘Fantasia Moroccan Nights, at Chez Ali, Marrakech’, for example, but I think we can do better. Why not create a ‘living tourist town,’ where people live and go about their daily tasks, but with interactive tourist experiences built in? Not the desert experience, but engaging with real, genuine, normal, ordinary, everyday Omanis, climbing date palms, riding camels, farming, making silverware, crafts, swimming with dolphins, really, the photo opportunities and the possibilities are truly endless, limited only by our imaginations. It would cost millions to establish, but done properly, could be an economic windfall of gigantic proportions.