Salalah all set for Khareef season

Muscat: With preparations in full swing, Dhofar is all set to welcome visitors to the Khareef season that begins on Friday. The season known for its seasonal weather, as per official calendar, starts on June 21 and will continue till September 21, this year.

Still everyone in Salalah is guessing over the actual arrival of the monsoon due to the fact that the city and its surrounding areas are covered in thick clouds every morning and evening. Afternoons, however, are different with heat and high level of humidity, which rises to 90 per cent.

According to figures from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), the number of visitors to Salalah reached 826,376 during the tourist season 2018. GCC visitors, including Omanis, comprised 90.6 per cent of the tourists, with their total number being 748,515. It is a 29.9 per cent increase over the number in 2017, when it was 576,006. They were followed by 48,907 Asian tourists, a significant increase compared to 44,801 in 2017 season.

A tour operator from Bahrain Mohammad Jawad, called 2018 an exceptional year due to cyclone Mekunu, which brought too much of water and subsequent greenery to the most parts of Dhofar. “Rather it advanced the Khareef season and extended it for many more months. I am not sure the same number of people would drop down to Salalah, but it is also a hard fact that the story of greenery and natural waterfalls reached far and wide and the city might get more number of visitors this year,” he said.

To match tourists’ expectations from Salalah, the event organiser, Dhofar Municipality, is working hard in terms of raising services and offering new features like hot air balloon, dolphin show, circus and many other events.

The government machinery is working overtime to clean roadside water holes for smooth flow of rainwater and giving finishing touches to laying road lane markings. Work is in progress on many more fronts.

National and international folk shows are in the pipeline, while there are regular features like Omani music and dance competition, handicraft show and exhibitions from different ministries, are all time favourites among the Salalah Tourism Festival, which is to start just 20 days after the beginning of the Khareef season.

From July 11 to August 22, the Itin venue of the festival would turn into ‘entertainment district’ which attracts many VIPs and eminent singers and performers from GCC and some other countries, making the ground a representative entertainment centre for all.

Samharam Tourist Village and Sahalnoot are going to be the extensions of the Salalah Tourism Festival with first of its kind attractions like dolphin shows and hot air balloon respectively. Marhoon bin Saeed al Ameri, Director General of Tourism in Dhofar Governorate, is hopeful of an easy Khareef season this year in terms of accommodation and traffic due to more supply of rooms from new hotels and expansions done in existing ones.

“A total of 34 big and small hotels are ready with a total 4,115 rooms and 6,312 beds. Seven new hotels in the categories of two-star to five-star have come up between the period from May to December last year, giving us a reason to believe that there would not be any accommodation crisis all through the season,” he said.

Al Ameri admitted that the government functionaries were geared up and having good co-operation for the season, “as we are expecting an increase over last year’s arrival of tourists and making all possible efforts to make Salalah far more interesting destination for all age groups.”