Muscat: A local community company consisting of 40 shareholders called Al Misfat Al Ahlia got a boost when Bank Muscat signed an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism to launch a landmark tourism development project in Misfat al Abriyeen in the wilayat of Al Hamra. The work on the project begins on Tuesday.
The agreement initiated as part of the bank’s Imprints CSR programme was signed at the bank’s head office in the presence of Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, Sheikh Waleed Al Hashar, Chief Executive Officer of Bank Muscat, senior officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Management Team members of the bank.
The agreement to develop old Misfat village, which has been growing as a major tourist attraction, was signed by Zaher Bin Hamad Al Riyami, Director General of Tourism Development at the Ministry of Tourism, Sheikha Al Farsi, chief strategy and corporate services officer of Bank Muscat, and Husni Bin Mubarak Al Abri, Chairman of Al Misfat Al Ahlia company entrusted to manage the project.
Al Mahrizi said that Misfat Al Abriyeen is one of the most important Omani villages for heritage and cultural tourism. The signing of the agreement to launch the tourism development project falls within the framework of sustainable development. The project will create a unique tourism experience centred on the old Misfat village, highlighting Omani tourism strategy based on a sustainable development model that benefits local communities with preservation of the environment and cultural heritage.” The Minister of Tourism appreciated Bank Muscat’s efforts in providing distinguished banking services and initiatives that fall within the scope of social responsibility and wished success to the bank and the project to contribute to the development march in the country.
The Ministry of Tourism conducted a comprehensive study in 2015 on the cultural heritage of the village and investment potential to develop a sustainable tourism project in cooperation with stakeholders in the private sector and the local community. The Ministry of Tourism and Bank Muscat commissioned a study by the University of Liverpool, UK, based on which the project is being launched.
“Bank Muscat was ready to support a tourism initiative and we chose misfit Al Abriyeen because it is a famous village and the project will only take eight months to one year,” explained Al Riyami.
Bank Muscat is financing Misfat Al Abriyeen project as part of its Imprints CSR initiative launched in 2016 in celebration of the Sultanate’s 46th National Day. The main components of the project include restoration of the main gate of Misfat Al Abriyeen, preserving its original features. Restoration of some old mud houses will be done to set up a restaurant and bakery serving authentic Omani cuisine for tourists and visitors. Vehicle parking facility, tourist information centre and office, souvenir shop and signage leading to the tourist spot will be developed.
Al Misfat Al Ahlia company set up by local promoters has been entrusted with the project, which will serve as a long-term investment benefit, creating new employment opportunities for local youth and business opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). “The villagers created the company in order to control the tourism activities in the wilayat and at the same time create revenue. Currently we are having 40 shareholders and their families are involved in this project. People are excited because their old city is coming alive again with activities aimed at the main gate, the routes around the city, and most importantly the dilapidated houses will be restored again,” said Husni bin Mubarak al Abri.
According to him the job opportunities would begin even before the completion of the projects. “We are going to concentrate on the parking area first and then there are also opportunities for transportation from the parking area to explore the old city. One of the main targets of the community company is to control the traffic of the tourists and also to find some specific routes while coming to the site. We want their movement to be very smooth while enjoying the magnificient views of the old city. At the same time they can enjoy the current facilities such as the bakery and restaurant located in the old houses,” added Al Abry.
In the past too with some of the projects that have been developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism the local community members have been involved. “We have some special agricultural tours and lots of local are preparing authentuic Omani food for the tourists so they have already been trying and now they have support,” explained Al Abry.
Sheikh Waleed al Hashar, CEO, said: “Bank Muscat is proud to be the pioneer of CSR activities in the banking sector in Oman. As the leading bank in the Sultanate, Bank Muscat is at the forefront in contributing to society and thereby setting a fine example to develop social responsibility as corporate culture. The signing of Misfat Al Abriyeen project as part of the Imprints initiative underscores the bank’s commitment to complementing government efforts in sustainable development. With benchmark social and environmental dimensions, the initiative marks a big step in the public-private partnership to make lasting contributions to society and the nation.”
Sheikha Al Farsi, Chief Strategy and Corporate Services Officer said, “Imprints Projects have many pillars and one of them is sustainable development and the development of Misfat Al Abriyeen tourism project is an example. We have taken some time to develop an understanding with local villagers and with the Ministry of Tourism to develop this project the way it is today. It has number of elements. One of them is the restoration of the gate with preservation of its main and original features. Also the parking area will be developed and equip the visiting centre with ticketing as well as the information centre. I think one of the important aspects is converting two of the old houses into a bakery and restaurant so they can provide food for the visitors. In step with the government’s economic diversification programme, the initiative is aimed at supporting start-ups and encouraging Omani entrepreneurship in the tourism industry. It is a nice way to see the bank’s contribution go back to the society.”