Emerging from the bubble: Oman’s tourism and hospitality prospects

MUSCAT: The world, in the slow and uncertain manner in which a newborn lamb takes its first steps, is gradually beginning its emergence from the restrictions of COVID-19, and with that emergence, the tourism and hospitality industries will be reflecting hard on the last 6 months with more than a little trepidation, to see what can be saved from the carnage.

Here in Oman, it would appear, pragmatically at first, as if the cruise ship tourist phenomenon will be the most severely affected, and therefore much of the capital, no pun intended, investment in modifications to the Port of Muscat to accommodate these behemoths, could be difficult to recoup. However, catering to these floating cities for the wealthy and elderly has always proven a marginal earner, as the citizens of Venice have found during recent years, to their consternation.

The new Muscat International Airport, on the other hand, should still prove a wise investment, as though the travel industry can expect rationalizations among the airlines not ‘bailed out’ by their governments, passengers and freight will still have to be moved. Much will depend upon how the passenger’s air travel experience is managed, with the International Air Travel Association (IATA) now having to come up with new protocols for travelers, with check-in, baggage-drop, and boarding procedures being as important as the flight itself.

The hotel industry here in Oman should be able to adapt relatively quickly, although older, one- and two-star establishments will find it difficult to retain any semblance of a clientele. Newer, more up-market establishments should, however, find it little more expensive than normal refurbishments to upgrade registrations and security, with dining options probably the most challenging issue to be faced, yet not insurmountable. Certainly, the greatest challenge will be in cleaning and rotating rooms, which will require a rethink in the way of furnishings and fittings, with fewer touchpoints, and greater sophistication in the technological aspects of hotel rooms.

Then there is the tourism experience, with greater emphasis on activity tourism in recent years driving significant global change, and this is where Oman can move quickly and embrace the ‘new reality,’ of tourism. It would appear that tourist experiences based on experiences, as opposed to activities will be the holy grail, to take tourists from their hotels to see new things, to experience, for example; Jabal Shams, Jabal Akdhar, the Aflaj, mosques, mausoleums, historic places, museums, date palms, and the numerous old towns and cities. Let them experience the camels, donkeys, dolphins, turtles, and whales in family groups, not herded and forced together. Let them look and learn!

It requires a different philosophy among tourism operators, and there will still be money to be made, so do not worry. This newborn lamb will soon be running around confidently, and, like that lamb, the Omani tourism industry is well placed to find its feet just as quickly.