Tourism in Middle Eastern hotspot Oman has been growing rapidly in recent years, as flag-carrier Oman Air continues to grow, visitors become more aware of its diversified offering and the government invests in the hospitality infrastructure.
Here Breaking Travel News chats with Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary at Oman’s ministry of tourism, at Arabian Travel Market to find out more.
Breaking Travel News: How important is inter-GCC travel for Oman as a destination?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: Inter-GCC travel is extremely important to us and ranks very high on our priority source market, whereby nearby travellers come to Oman for a variety of purposes, and particularly during the summer months when Salalah offers visitors a cooler experience due to the annual monsoon.
In June, July and August the area is a sea of green and people from the GCC countries do not have to travel overseas to escape the heat.
Oman is in a position to capitalise on inter-GCC travel during events taking place in the region by offering tourists a seamless and hassle-free multi centre holiday.
Over 2,000 new hotel rooms across the Sultanate came onto the hospitality market in 2016 alone and Oman will have the required capacity to welcome tourists from Dubai and Qatar on the occasion of the World Expo and World Cup.
Furthermore, we are in the process of developing a number of attractions aimed at increasing inter-GCC travel.
An agreement has been signed for the construction of a new waterpark in Salalah; the project will include six types of water rides, a restaurant, a coffee shop, parking and green areas.
Majarat Oman, the Sultanate’s biggest indoor theme park is being built in the premises of the Al Sawadi Beach Resort and is planning a soft opening in 2017.
The theme park is a futuristic, alien themed, indoor park, which offers a classic mix of all entertainment elements for the family.
The sultanate’s first snow park, part of the Palm Mall Muscat project, will be a new-generation Alpine winter themed real snow and ice amusement park and plans are underway to build a 1.5 million square metre theme park complex in Barka in northern Oman.
BTN: How about looking further afield. Do you feel global perceptions of Oman are accurate and what can be done to alter how people see the country?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: In 2016, the top five visitor markets were Britain, Germany, USA, France and Canada.
The tourists we currently receive are those discerning visitors looking for a truly authentic, quality, Arabian experience and we want to grow the perception that Oman is a destination that can offer this type of holiday as much as we possibly can.
The Tourism Strategy has identified digital marketing and media relations as the most effective communication set of platforms to be used to promote Oman as a preferred and top-of-mind tourism destination.
As such, efforts are being channelled in those particular vehicles of communication in order to boost tourism, both domestically and internationally.
New channels were created by the name of ‘Experience Oman’ on the main platforms of social media including: Facebook (multiple languages catered to our target markets), Twitter (English and Arabic), Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, and YouTube.
These channels went live on September 1st, 2016.
These channels are designed to represent brand Oman in which visitors can expect to receive frequent and reliable information to enrich their time in Oman.
They discuss tourism related content and constitute a helpful platform to engage with, ask questions as well as share experiences and photos.
They showcase the natural beauty of Oman, injected with culture, traditions, people and attractions for all those currently in, and soon to be visiting Oman.
BTN: Which source markets are you most keen to grow in the mid-term? How can the government of Oman work to achieve this?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: We are noticing an increase in those consumers with an adventure and experiential travel focus; our visitors are interested in history and culture and activities such as sailing, cycling, trekking, golf, diving, spa and wellness and other special interest groups.
We predict that these markets will continue to grow as our product offering develops, in line with the important and continuous expansion of worldwide adventure tourism.
Also, special-interest groups constitute one of the fastest growing segments of world tourism, and Oman perfectly caters for that category.
The Oman Ministry of Tourism’s 2040 Tourism Strategy is based on the cluster approach that creates a series of unique tourism experiences in specifically identified areas of Oman, reflecting local culture and heritage, history and adventure.
The cluster model allows visitors to experience a variety of tourism experiences, both within each cluster or via an itinerary which covers multiple clusters.
A good visit option is to have visitors spend some time in Muscat before escaping to the cool of the mountains, having a true Bedouin experience in the desert or travelling down to Salalah in the south of the sultanate, which has a different climate entirely.
BTN: The United Arab Emirates, and in particular Dubai, have given the Middle East the image of a luxury destination. Does Oman fall into this category, or is there a different offering there?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: Oman is a fabulous and authentic, year-round destination steeped in culture and history.
Oman offers stunning landscapes and plenty to do from outdoor adventure activities, spa and wellness and cultural attractions such as the Royal Opera House and the National Museum of Oman.
With the natural playgrounds of Nizwa, boasting rugged dramatic landscape and wadis, the cooler more temperate climate of Salalah in the south and the spectacular coastline with its natural inlets and secluded beaches, there is something to discover for everyone.
The natural attractions, coupled with high class luxury resorts, desert camps and smaller mid-range accommodation, means that Oman can cater for holidaymakers looking for a truly authentic, quality, Arabian experience.
BTN: The ban on electronic devices on some flights out of the Middle East has, perhaps unnecessarily, raised safety concerns over aviation in the region. Although not directly connected, has the furore had a negative impact on Omani tourism?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: Safety and security in aviation, in the air, on aircraft, and on the ground, have always remained a top priority for Oman Air and remains at the forefront of proactive ingenuity work, planning, training and implementation.
The new measure has not had a negative impact on Omani tourism. Oman is, and continues to be, entirely safe and secure.
BTN: Oman Air has been rapidly growing its network over the past few years and has been cutting down the financial support it receives from the government. How much of an asset is the carrier for Omani tourism?
Maitha Al Mahrouqi: Oman Air continues to fly the national flag with pride and is an excellent asset to Omani tourism.
As an airline, one of Oman Air’s mandates is to contribute to the economic growth of the sultanate by creating “air bridges” to bring tourists from abroad, which is good for tourism, and to create business opportunities for people both within Oman and via Oman.
The infrastructure to do this is now practically fully available; Muscat’s new airport is to be opened soon and the new passenger terminal in Muscat is nearing completion, meaning that the home base for Oman Air will be state of the art.
The opening of the new Duqm airport during 2017 will also complete the extensive offering of regional gateways in Oman, in addition to Salalah and Sohar.
Find out more about tourism in Oman on the official website.