The dark side of tourism

Oman has the characteristic of making you feel that you are the first one to discover it.
These words were spoken by a close friend who works in the hospitality sector. It was a portion of her answer to a question of why Oman has the possibility to become the next big thing as a honeymoon destination.
These words resonated with me. Having been all over the country in the span of three years, whenever I go to a wadi, or venture in the farthest corner of the desert or trek the highest mountain peaks, I always come home feeling like I was the first one to discover those places — even if it wasn’t necessarily true.
In the three years that I’d been here, I’ve unlocked many secrets closely guarded by the locals. These are destinations that weren’t on the radar of the general populace and as part of the job, writing about them was an easy task because their beauty was meant to be shared with the world.
But making something popular comes with a heavy and often regrettable price. With people and tourists often come destruction regardless if there are rules in place.
Case in point Ain Sabhan of the Al Batinah Governorate.
Partnering with local explorer Ahmed al Jaabri through his Oman Outdoor Adventure interest group, we drove all the way to Suhar to find this oasis strategically hidden by rough roads and challenging mountains.
There were but a few guys when we got there and as residents of nearby villages, they were easy going and offer much info about the spring. The location was pristine — no vandals of any sort on the cliff walls, the blue water made more beautiful by the white sulphur that settled at the bottom.
With few people around, it was fun and enjoyable exploring the expanse of the ain. And because it was beautiful, Ahmed posted photos of it on social media which resulted in the inundation of messages on his accounts.
Everybody wanted to find out where it was and typically, he shared the location.
We went back to the same location two weeks later and the long holiday has brought dozens of people to the spring. We were happy that it gained attention but we were not happy by the repercussions.
The pristine spring we’ve seen two weeks back became a place of horror with visitors using the dried sulphur powder as chalk and used them to vandalise the different corners of the spring. Garbages were left littering the ground, huge stones were moved around and people trampled the main source of water. It was ghastly and very disappointing.
It’s not my job to police these places and definitely, I cannot preach of how people should behave when outdoors but as a matter of principle, everyone should always adhere to the mantra “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.”
I’ve seen this case many times — from Mibam to Wadi Hawir, to the viewing point of Sur bridge and even the secret beaches of Ashkarah and Sur. All of these places were trampled on, littered on, constantly disturbed by people acting so rambunctious they forget that these places are home to villagers who would love to protect their privacy and peace.
One person advocating for the protection of these beautiful destinations is not enough. As we strive to bring to your attention other beautiful places to explore, I have but one request to make — let us all advocate that these places remain as they are.
Let’s enjoy the view and let’s enjoy the experience. BUT… let’s make sure to not destroy these places in the process.
The destinations in Oman has a way of making us feel like we are the first ones to discover them. Let’s not deprive others of that experience.