T V Sarnga Dharan Nambiar –
Wanderlust is no longer considered ‘lust’. It’s not even a desire, but a norm today. What’s more, travel and tourism holds the key to strengthening the wobbly global economy, it seems, with the industry poised for an annual growth of four per cent over the next decade.
According to WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), over the last six years travel and tourism has outpaced the global economy, showing the sector’s resilience, and the power of travel despite global economic and political challenges.
And it’s not just tourism, anymore: it’s experiential or participative tourism that’s going to call the shots. By definition, experiential tourism enables people to experience the destination by connecting to its history, people and culture. And globally it’s growing at an amazing pace, if current trends are anything to go by.
Are we ready?
Travellers all over the world are looking for immersive experiences in distant lands. As for the Sultanate, it has always been an exotic destination that offered fresh, unique, authentic and memorable experiences to visitors. No surprise, last year alone, the country welcomed more than three million visitors, who cherished its rich historic and cultural attractions.
The Sultanate’s Tourism Strategy 2040 aims at enhancing the tourism sector’s contribution to 6-10 per cent of the national GDP by wooing over five million international visitors, in addition to same-day visitors and domestic tourists. Obviously, the Tourism Strategy focuses on a cluster approach that aims at creating unique tourism experiences anchored in local culture, heritage and history. The strategy looks at an eclectic mix that deftly combines the modern city of Muscat with all its uber-lifestyle attractions with the cool climes of the mighty mountains, the deserts’ indigenous Bedouin ways of life, the rain-and-mist-defined Dhofar and the several Unesco-recognised heritage sites scattered across the land. Perceived as one of the most exciting and exotic destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, it’s not at all surprising that Oman is increasingly preferred — and deservedly so — by not only non-Arab visitors but Arab nationals as well who value one-of-its-kind authentic experiences.
Obviously, with an array of amazing destinations that allow visitors to lose themselves in indigenous real-life experiences such as the Jabal Akhdhar and Jebel Shams, the mystic Dhofar, Al Hoota caves, a number of forts with engaging historical narratives, turtle sanctuaries of Ras Al Hadd and Masirah, diving locations of Daymaniyat, the wild deserts of Sharqiyah, traditional villages of Misfat Al Abreen, ancient tombs, the ruined adobe houses that characterize Oman’s architectural legacy and the Bait Al Safah living museum in Al Hamra, the traditional souqs of Muttrah and Nizwa, pristine beaches and sprawling date farms, Oman boasts the best of eco and geo tourism in its most diverse dimensions.
At the other end of the tourism spectrum are high-end initiatives such as the upcoming Omagine Project, which is designed to provide a wholesome experience by integrating cultural, heritage, educational, entertainment and residential elements, and comprising a high culture theme park containing seven pearl shaped buildings, associated exhibition buildings, a boardwalk, an open air amphitheatre and stage; open space green areas; a canal and an enclosed harbour and marina area; associated retail shops and restaurants, entertainment venues, boat slips and docking facilities; star resort hotels; commercial office buildings; shopping and retail establishments and residences.
The 150 hectare futuristic indoor water theme park complex in Barka, another water park in Salalah, a 58,000 sq ft new-gen snow park at the Palm Mall Muscat and the Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront project (giving a facelift to Port Sultan Qaboos and making it a mixed-use waterfront destination for niche tourists) count among the most exciting developments ready to offer memorable experiences to visitors. The tourism strategy, at the same time, ensures that the Sultanate’s experiential tourism sector grows in measured steps, and without harming the delicate geo-cultural environments with their valuable legacy and unique identity.
On a different note, the exciting developments in the experiential tourism segment means a lot of additional responsibility for tour operators in Oman. They need to gain a thorough understanding of the subtle philosophy of participative tourism, its environmental and cultural impacts and how to enhance the visitors’ overall travel experience. Using the worn out cliché, with great opportunities come great responsibilities.