There must be a decent amount of fossil fuels in the Sultanate’s ‘catchment’ for now, and it will always be needed, somewhere. But the genuine alternatives for overseas funds after that are few and far between. Tourism in many forms, Omani investment in tourism, and Omanis working in tourism must be the catch-cry going forward.
An industry source explained that the former group is of those who come to “hike and bike, swim, surf, dive and explore; the adrenaline junkies, the searchers, the bloggers and the go-pro set. They like to camp out, stay in hostels or motels, and experience life a little more on the wild side, by staying, eating and travelling low budget.” They are more likely to interact easily with locals on the roadside or in the fishing villages, who they see as kindred spirits.
Perhaps for them a network of budget motels and dormitories should be created, with those by the sea having dive kits, surfboards and body boards to rent, while those in the mountains provide local guides for hiking and tramping adventures, others hiring bikes, or providing maintenance services. There are numerous positive models for this class of tourist around the world, especially in New Zealand and Australia.
The more mature tourists, said the same source, “likes their comforts, and are currently well catered for with modern fleets of 4WD vehicles and buses with excellent a/c systems. They like to visit historic places, and destinations of cultural and natural interest, such as Nizwa Fort, Bait Al Rudaidah, the Turtle Reserve at Ras Al Jinz, and to go dolphin watching off the coast. But they do like a soft bed at night, a nice dinner with local menu options, a glass of wine with that meal, and a hearty breakfast in the morning. For them, four stars is pretty much a minimum requirement.”
So then, it is imperative that this market too is met. There is another group, that brought in on the cruise ships, however there is little sustainable data to this stage suggesting that the Sultanate benefits significantly, financially, from the big ships, with many tourists of that ilk enjoying a wander through Muttrah, but with low spends. The cruise ships phenomenon caused as much angst as delight in the magical city of Venice, not as much because they were creating erosion issues, and changing the natural movement of water in the canals, but quite simply because research revealed their tourist value is remarkably poor
Perhaps it is time to give greater consideration other groups, and other cultures, and I’m not talking here specific nationalities, but more likely age groups of those who want to just ‘chill out’ in the sun, to get a tan, drink eat, and socialize at night. Let’s not close the cultural door on this lucrative income stream. The sun doesn’t cost the country anything, and it is a resource, much like the sea and sand that could lead to an economic windfall.
One more significant element that must be addressed in the sector is the under-involvement of Omanis in tourism. Those who are involved, speak glowingly of the experiences (not to mention the tips), and tourists, for their part, are disappointed they don’t interact more with Omanis, one Kirsten Rex, from Germany, saying, “If I want to talk to people from India or Malaysia, I can visit those countries. One of the reasons I’m here is to meet Omanis,” who it must be acknowledged, are widely seen as the most gentle of nationalities.
Tourists want to meet you Oman! But they can’t if you hide from them, and no matter how you look at the interaction between yourselves and those of other nations, have a think about how they see it. You will never be seen as unfriendly, but by continually resisting interaction, placing barriers between yourselves and those visiting your beautiful country, you do yourself no favours.
Tourism and hospitality is not just about welcoming, keeping them at arm’s length and taking their money before they go. No, it is about, as a nation and a culture, welcoming and embracing them, with a well-meant “Salam Allaykum,” when they come, and then letting you, the Omani inside, and the genuine Omani experience, sweep them off their feet, empty their wallets, and still want to come back again.