Tourism sector receives new boost from investments and initiatives

Oman has received a record number of tourists in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the previous quarter, thanks to new legislation and investments in the country. Between January and March 2018, tourists recorded at Muscat airport and the borders reached 1.1 millions, up 18 per cent from the previous quarter in 2017.
This clearly shows the government’s investments in the hospitality area and new visa relaxation are working well for the tourism sector. At the same time, Omran’s initiatives in building world-class hotels, exhibitions and events in the last 12 months have complimented the tourists drive in the Sultanate.
The advantage is that Oman has a year-round sunshine, sandy beaches, cliff-top forts and desert dunes which most of the GCC countries do not have.
Nearly 40 per cent of the tourists come the GCC countries but local hotels also reported a high intake from Europe and Asian countries as well. Tour operators also reported a bigger number of bookings in sight seeing across the country. The popular resorts like the Masirah Island, Wadi Bani Khalid, Ras Al Hadd, Rimal al Sharqiya (Wahiba Sands), and Musandam received record visitors.
Earlier this month, Oman agreed a new visa agreement with 33 countries which will boost a new record of tourists in the country for the rest of the year. The government has spent about 720 million rials in the last five years in the hospitality area and a further 1.2 billion in infrastructure like roads. The accumulative investments have paid off in a big way in terms of tourism attraction.
As for the future, Oman has allocated around 15 sites for tourism developments and it is estimated to cost about $2 billion over the next seven years, as part of its plans to lure 5 million visitors by 2022. With the completion of the new Muscat airport, the authorities expect to increase the capacity from 8 million passengers now to 16 million by 2020.
The government plans to embark on a drive of renovation of many of its historical sites to boost visitors. The ancient buildings like the forts, the aflaj systems, the old towns, souqs and mosques are high in the agenda. Authorities also are planning to spend more money on traditional arts like handicraft. For example, pottery, beehive and carpet weaving have not been only identified as the main venues to attract tourists but generating livelihood to artisans in the rural areas.
In a recent report conducted by the Ministry of Tourism, job generation is another advantage. Currently, more than 5,000 Omanis are employed in the hospitality sector. Over 7,000 people in the rural areas are doing business in handicraft popularly demanded by tourists. The ministry of commerce and industry last year has eased business licensing of tour guides to encourage Omanis to establish their businesses in these areas.
The Ministry of transport announced in November last year that it has a plan of inviting companies specializing in seaplanes to carry tourists in areas that do not have airports or good road networks. This innovation will attract tourists in snorkelling, beach camping, water surfing and diving. Oman has the longest coast in the Gulf stretching for 1,700 km from the UAE to the Yemeni borders. Several companies have already shown their interests to build deluxe cottages in beach areas such as Sur, Duqm, Qurayat, Sifah and Salalah. The beach resorts will pull in tourists in water sports and leisure.
The vision of the ministry of tourism is to create business opportunities for companies and at the same promote Oman as a vibrant destination from its scenery, culture and mountains. It is promoting to establish “community tourism” in the rural areas in partnership with the government. The next plan will be to set up a special SME fund to help business people to establish their trades that would give better value to tourists.