Observer Weekend: Guiding tourists!

IMPRESSED by the Sultanate as a travel destination, a well-known travel guide writer from Germany has written a 360-page travel guide on Oman, first published by DuMont in 2005, called the DuMont Travel Guide OMAN.
Dr Gerhard Heck, the author and travel journalist, is a retired professor of educational science of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz having taught for 30 years. He regularly visits the Sultanate to update the guide.

Earlier, he also lectured at Savitribai Phule Pune University from 1968 to 1971 and as Associate Professor for German Language at the King Saud University, Riyadh from 1978 to 1982, through German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), a German governmental institution for exchange with foreign universities.
With his rich teaching experiences abroad, Dr Gerhard wrote travel guides for DuMont, the well-known German publisher, covering Arabian Peninsula and Mexico.
The Mexican president presented him with the Pluma de Plata Award for travel journalism in Acapulco in 2007 for his Mexican travel guide. With DuMont, he also published guides for Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but the country he esteems the most is the Sultanate.

Excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to write travel guides?
Since I was old enough to travel on my own, I travelled to Europe, then my destinations included countries worldwide, for example Mexico. As a student, I joined the newly created students’ travel agency at the Frankfurt University and became an organiser and guide of a student camp in Sardinia, Italy. Therefore I began to prepare myself deeper about my host countries, their culture and geography.

How can you describe OMAN
travel guide and its benefits?
German speaking tourists will be informed about Oman’s standout aspects, which make the country unique on the Arabian Peninsula. I explain Oman in 400 pages as a marvelous tourist destination, describing the landscapes, cities, natural diversity, history, culture and the people. I also inform them on how to save and easy it is to travel inside Oman and where to stay.
The Oman travel guide has about 65 per cent of information for tourists, travelling in the different governorates from Khasab in the North to Salalah in the South. The rest of the information is about geography, culture, politics, and society.

Why were you only interested in the
Arabian Gulf region?
For a travel guide writer it is a requirement to stay in a host country for a longer time than the duration of normal vacation. I only write about countries, where I stayed for one up to four years on a working contract, so that I had the chance to experience its culture, society and landscapes from daily life. I worked for four years at the University of Riyadh. During my long holidays between the terms I made journey inside the country and to neighbouring countries in the region, and as a result I wrote my first travel guide on the Arabian Peninsula for the DuMont Publishing house.

How many times have you visited Oman
for writing the guide?
I have visited Oman a dozen times and every visit goes on between 3 and 8 weeks. For the fifth edition, I visited the Sultanate on 5 occasions.
For the first edition I visited Oman for five times and during each time I took a longer time to experience the governorates intensively.
My last visit was in April-May 2019 for the 2020 edition which will be out by October and delivered to the bookstores in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

Can you explain what you covered
in 5 editions so far?
Since I started my research on Oman in 1990 for the DuMont travel guide covering the Arabian Peninsula, I could refer profoundly to my knowledge gained. So I had a very good base to start with for the first edition of OMAN travel guide, which was published in 2004. The following updates reflect the steps Oman took for its touristic development and also the changes of society, infrastructure and Omani daily life.

Any feedback regarding readership views from Arabs or Europeans?
A lot of letters from my readers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to the publishing house inform that they found it very helpful and an eye opener to travel with this book. Since years, the Ministry of Tourism has recommended my travel guide in its tourist information in German. When I meet German tourists in Oman, they often use the guide and tell me, that it offers them profound information. In April 2019, a group of cruise ship tourists in Khasab told me the same. In 1983, a Riyadh newspaper published about the first edition of the guide on the Arabian Peninsula.

What are the highlights with regard
to information on Oman?
Oman as a travel destination offers great diversity. There are plenty of interesting museums in Muscat, but also places like Taqah, Al Hamra and of course the Museum of Frankincense in Salalah. There are also the dedicated restored castles, fortresses all over the country; Musandam with its unique Khors as a very impressive landscape and Salalah with its unique frankincense history and tradition; the Sayq-plateau with its fantastic canyons for hiking and the terrace-farming for Damascus roses and pomegranates. The best part is the climate from September to early May which is perfect for holidays on the beaches.

Any point of interest which stands
out from your visits?
My interests during my travel relates to Misfat Al Abriyeen, an ancient village with traditional mud houses, situated in the middle of a beautiful oasis, where tourists experience the aflaj irrigation systems. A roundtrip with Hilal al Ghadani, the Omani tour guide who has authentic knowledge or a dhow cruise within the Khors of Musandam with Abdul Fattah Ahmed al Shuhi, the Omani owner of a local tour company, testifies this. A guiding tour to the villages and landscapes of Sayq-Plateau, Al Rus and Wadi bani Habib, with one of the very instructive local guides of Alila Hotel, makes it complete.

Can you narrate unusual experiences from your stays in Oman?
There are many, but let me take only four of them. These are the baby Turtles, who just peeped out of their eggshells, being escorted by turtle-rangers at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah in Muscat. Hundreds of camels grazing during Khareef-season in the Salalah mountains, ancient tradition of bullfighting without bloodshed in Barka. The Sultanate is a country of fragrances, which you can smell almost everywhere: during the harvest season of the Damascus roses on the Sayq-Plateau on the Jabal Al Akhdhar mountains; frankincense in the Dhofar Governorate, in the souqs of Muttrah and Salalah and in most of the hotel lobbies, in contact with Omanis, who often perfume their clothes with frankincense or in the Amouage factory in Seeb, where the most valuable perfume in the world is produced.

Do you have any plans to publish the guide in English as to benefit more readers?
The copyright is held by DuMont, the German Publishing House. Some of my travel guides are published in other European languages like for example Mexico in Dutch, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in Italian. It is a question of cooperation between DuMont and the foreign publishing houses, unfortunately not of the author. Travel guides on Oman in English language are existing, British and other publishing houses are already in the business. Unfortunately I am not involved in these decisions.

How long do you take to write the guide?
As I had a full time job at the university, the first edition took about two years, updating for about 4 months. As well in Germany as in many countries in the world, the income of a freelance travel journalist is poor. You must have a full-time job to earn your living. As a professor, I was fortunate to be employed by the government.

Your impressions of Oman then and now….
My wife Renate Ammann is a social anthropologist and travel journalist who has accompanied me during my trips since 1990. When my daughter Tanja was 5 years old in 1979, she accompanied us from Saudi Arabia, on her the first visit to the Sultanate. At that time the InterContinental Muscat Hotel was the only hotel in Muscat, where we could book in advance from Riyadh; up to today it is a landmark for the city.