National strategy to drive domestic tourism in Oman

Omran, the wholly government-owned tourism investment and development company, is collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism in supporting the growth of domestic tourism, side by side with efforts to position the Sultanate as an international holiday destination.
To this end, a national strategy is being charted for the development of internal tourism, according to Peter Walichnowski, Chief Executive Officer of Omran. The goal, he said, is to ensure that domestic tourism is not being sacrificed amid the concerted government-led drive to boost international tourist traffic and related investment into the Sultanate.
“We are now spending more time on the domestic tourism market,” said Walichnowski in reference to “criticism” that the industry is catering primarily to international 5-star tourists while ignoring domestic tourists who cannot pay 5-star hotel rates.
“So Omran, together with the Ministry of Tourism, is focusing this year on a national tourism strategy to keep the money in Oman, and keep the people in Oman, by giving them more variety within the Sultanate. We are focusing on 3-star hotels — or motels as they are called in the United States and other countries — where people can drive long distances, stay in a convenient motel that is not highly-priced, and comes with facilities like service station, fast food outlets and so on.”
Speaking at an economic forum held here recently, Walichnowski said the ministry, along with Omran, is working on diversifying the Sultanate’s domestic tourism offering. “We see a boosting of the national tourism agenda, through the opening of destinations like heritage forts and castles, nature reserves, and so on,” he noted.  Efforts are also continuing apace to drive international tourist arrivals into the Sultanate, according to the official. In line with proposals mooted by Tanfeedh — the National Programme for Enhancing Economic Diversification — the Ministry of Tourism is looking to set up a ‘Destination Marketing Company’ that brings together all of the activities being undertaken in marketing the Sultanate internationally — an initiative that envisions a key role for Oman Air as well.
Significantly, international visitations are already up 15 per cent in the last two years, putting Oman on track to achieving its targets enshrined in the Vision 2040 Strategy, said Walichnowksi, noting that the accent is on providing these visitors with a varied tourist and hospitality offering once they land in the Sultanate.
“We have to provide them with 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels, camping sites, and so on. We are expanding the range of hospitality by putting in, for example, trailer parks – recreational vehicles that people can rent rather than stay in hotels.”
Commenting on the performance of the hotel segment of the industry, he said that despite a 15 per cent uptick in tourist arrivals over the past two years, occupancy rates have fallen to around 50 per cent, down from 60 per cent previously — a decline he attributed primarily to the strong growth in room capacity during the same period.
“We have seen the slowing of the economy over the last two years because of the oil price, but we are also seeing a big increase in hotel rooms being delivered,” said the CEO. “For example, there has been a 30 per cent increase in rooms delivered in the 4- and 5-star hotel segment in the last two years, compared to previous years.
Even though visitations are increasing by about 15 per cent per year in terms of tourism arrivals, they are still not enough to absorb that number of hotel rooms available within a short period of time. Consequently the occupancy rate has dropped from 60 per cent to 50 per cent, and RevPAR has dropped as well. Nevertheless, this is a short-term phenomenon,” he added.