A land that has been described by ancient travellers for its beauty and charm, a land that has been known for its historical trade links, a land that is etched in the world maritime history, a land that has had heroic warriors and poets, a land where the people are known for their love for peace and hospitality — this land is the Sultanate of Oman.
In the last five years, the country has opened its doors to quality tourism ranging from eco and adventure to luxury tourism. More and more people of the world are making travelling part of their life’s objective and Oman is right there on the world map with international tourism promotions by Ministry of Tourism and properties being developed in the Sultanate by Omran and private entities.
With the national carrier Oman Air increasing routes, the latest being Russia, in addition to another local airline, SalamAir, travelling to Oman and within Oman has become easier than ever before. November 11, 2018 saw the official opening of the Muscat International Airport but within the period of soft opening, the airport has captured the imagination of the world travellers with its efficiency and design.
The Sultanate, the land of history, has secured its heritage at the international level with many of its sites being added to the Unesco World Heritage list.
In June 2018, Qalhat made yet another history through its inclusion in the list of Unesco world heritage. The archaeological land is the fifth Omani site on the list after Bahla Castle (1987), Bat, Al Khatam and Al Ain (1988), Frankincense Land (2000), Aflaj Irrigation System (2006), which includes five Aflaj; Daris, Al-Khatmeen, Al-Maliky, Al-Mayser and Al-Jeila.
On the occasion, Sultan bin Saif al Bakri, Director General of Antiquities at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture pointed out that this indicates the global exceptional value of Qalhat as a significant cultural and economic connection point in the thirteen century.
“The city is characterised by fusion of cultures and this is evident through buildings, tombs and mosques inspired by the Persian Safavid architecture. In addition to Ottoman baths which depends on steam, indicating the extent of prosperity that this city enjoyed in ancient times” Al Bakri stated.
According to Unesco, ‘The city developed as a major port on the east coast of Arabia between the 11th and 15th centuries CE, during the reign of the Hormuz princes. The ancient city bears unique archaeological testimony to the trade links between the east coast of Arabia, East Africa, India, China and South-East Asia.’
“Qalhat was distinguished by its harbour which was a stopping port for many trading ships from India,” wrote Marco Polo, the famous Italian traveller, who visited Oman in 1272; adding, “Qalhat is a great city located on a bay called Qalhat. It is an important coastal city 600 miles north-west of Dhofar and its people are Arab subject to Hermes who whenever found himself in a war with a stronger king, he would resort to the city of Qalhat for its fortification and strategic location. Its people do not farm grains, but import them from outside the country on commercial boats. The port is very large and good. From this city, spices and other goods are distributed to interior cities. They also export to India many of the original Arabian horses.”
Qalhat also inspired Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller, when he visited Qalhat in the fourteenth century. He noted in his book that it had fine bazaars and one of the most beautiful mosques. He describes it saying, “Its walls are tiled with Qashani, which is like Zilij, and it occupies a lofty situation which commands a view of the sea and the anchorage. It was built by the saintly woman Bibi Maryam, Bibi meaning in their speech ‘noble lady.”
He gave an insight to the lifestyle of people in Qalhat when he wrote, “And I ate in this city fish that I did not eat like in any region, and I preferred it to all other meat. They grill it on tree leaves, then eat it with rice. And rice is brought to them from the land of India. They are people of trade and live on what comes to them from the Indian Sea.”
Today visitors of the world can relive these moments reading their words while enjoying the sea breeze. A protected land, the once bustling city is serene with just the sound of the sea and voices carried over from nearby towns.
Another ancient settlement that became a major attraction in recent years has been Al Baleed — an integral part of the Frankincense Land that earned its place on the Unesco World Heritage list in 2000. In its 18th year since the official list, the site is on the itinerary of each tourist who is on for a cultural tourism experience.
Today with international hotels and tourism companies in the area has made it a traveller’s delight. The land that lured ancient travellers is today with amenities of international standards ready to host major events. And leading the trend is the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC), a project of Oman Tourism Development Company (OMRAN).
OCEC, owned and developed by OMRAN in the heart of Madinat al Irfan in Muscat, aims to strengthen Oman’s position as a leading MICE destination in the region. According to OCEC, over two years, the centre has demonstrated its potential to attract major local and international conventions, recording 291 events in its two years of operations, thus making a significant 65 per cent growth rate compared to the first year. The events agenda of OCEC include conventions, live meetings that could bring over 40,000 visitors from around the world from now until 2024.
Established in 2005, the role of Omran is to drive the investment, growth and development of the rapidly growing tourism sector in Oman. While being the master developer of major tourism, heritage and urban developments, delivering iconic projects.
Even the residents themselves are discovering new destinations and serving as brand ambassadors, have catapulted many of the local sites as must-visit destinations.
In the last three years, Oman’s beautiful wadis, unique in the Middle East region, are becoming source of great adventure diversifying outdoor activities that can be done in the country. With a good mix of historical sites, adventure destinations and luxury and modern amenities, Oman is ready to welcome more tourists in the coming years.