The government is making tourism a central plank of its economic strategy, with mega plans to enhance its appeal among tourists from across the globe with a series of initiatives such as better air connectivity, airport facility, hotels and resorts, and e-visa facility. The whole idea is to help the country mature from being an ‘emerging’ tourism market into an established one with a high-volume of repeat guests and a diverse range of feeder markets.
An ambitious stride towards making tourism one of the most significant income generators in the Sultanate has been the 2040 Tourism Strategy which provides a comprehensive blueprint for tourism development in Oman and outlines a series of targets for the country’s tourism sector. The strategy unveiled by the Ministry of Tourism is a clearly defined and structured road map for future growth aimed at making tourism one of the most important economic pillars for the country’s future. The implementation of tourism strategy
would avail more than 500,000 jobs by the end of 2040, with the total investment in the sector expected to touch Ro19bn of which only 12 per cent will be by the public sector. The contribution of tourism sector to the GDP would range between 6 to 10 per cent.
The country is investing heavily in its tourism and hospitality infrastructure as it aims to host seven million tourists by 2040, including 2.7 million in Muscat. Investment in tourism industry will increase the number of jobs within tourism to 45,000 by 2020, as the country looks to expand its economy, moving it from away from traditional oil-and-gas sources of income. According to a projection by Colliers International, tourism arrivals to Oman will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 per cent between 2018 and 2021, which will be driven by visitors from across the Gulf region, which accounted for 48 per cent of guests in 2017. In addition, arrivals from India (10 per cent), Germany (6 per cent), the United Kingdom (5 per cent) and the Philippines (3 per cent) are also expected to contribute immensely to the growth, supported by easy visa procedures and improved flight connections.
A report by the Implementation, Support and Follow-up Unit has laid out the longterm strategies for key areas listed under Tanfeedh, the national drive for economic expansion, and plans to increase the contribution of tourism to the country’s GDP to RO1.5 billion by 2020. The contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in 2017 was RO849.5 million, or 3.2 per cent of total GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s annual report 2018. In addition, this strategy also plans to increase private sector investment in tourism to RO1.8 billion by 2020.
Investment in integrated tourism complexes and mixed-used developments will run into several billion dollars. These investments are the fruits of partnerships with local and international investors, as well as leading hospitality brands that work hand in hand with the government.
The opening of the Sultanate’s tourism sector would be realised through relaxing entry rules for visas into the country, a large part of which has already been done. Unsponsored visas are now available for nationalities of over 67 countries, and lately include Iran, Russia and China. Indian nationals with a valid US or Schengen Visa, can also apply online.
A FILLIP TO THE AVIATION
The recent opening of Oman’s most modern Muscat International Airport is expected to further strengthen the growth of aviation sector in the country. The state-of-the-art airport has a capacity to handle 40 flights per hour with 86 check-in counters, 40 gates, and 29 aircraft stands with passenger boarding bridges, as well as a new control tower. Out of ten carousels for bag handling, eight will be used for international flights. The decision to build a new airport was taken after studies found that there could be a 40 per cent growth in number of visitors to Oman by 2019.
The new terminal has a capacity to handle 12 million passengers per annum, which can be scaled up to 24 million, 36 million and 48 million in different phases if needed. The new terminal will have the capacity to handle large aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747. The existing terminal will be used for low-cost carrier operations. The number of passengers at Muscat International Airport exceeded 14 million in 2017, a robust growth of 17 per cent over the previous year.
Similarly, Salalah International Airport also broke its record with a 24 per cent growth at 1.5 million passengers as a result of an increase in both domestic and international travel. Presently, the Muscat International Airport is ranked in the top 10 airports in the Middle East, with an average annual growth forecast of 8 per cent.
Apart from international airports in two major cities, there is a move to attract tourists to the interior regions by building airports and other infrastructure in Duqm and Sohar. With Duqm’s new airport now open, projects at the heart of Oman’s future economic powerhouse are all set to speed up, further driving the Sultanate’s economic expansion.
A MODERN DOWNTOWN
Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran), the executive arm of the government of Oman for the development of the tourism sector, has been entrusted with strengthening and diversifying the national economy to support Oman’s Vision 2040 through pioneering tourism infrastructure and lifestyle development across the Sultanate. Madinat Al Irfan is the Sultanate’s largest urban development project and is set to contribute to Oman Vision 2040. In the years to come, Madinat Al Irfan will have major positive national implications, contributing approximately Ro400mn to the local economy. The eastern area (phase 1) currently being developed by Omran sits alongside Wadi Park just minutes from the newly opened Muscat International Airport. It is a multi-use district adjoining the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC), a world- class venue for international conferences, trade shows and concerts. OCEC, which celebrated its second anniversary recently, helps the government to strengthen the country’s position as a leading MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination in the region.
Omran and Majid Al Futtaim announced a strategic partnership to develop the western area (phase 2) of Madinat Al Irfan. The joint venture will see the development of a vibrant mixed-use community that will serve as the new urban centre for Muscat. This new partnership plays a major role in Oman national economic diversification agenda and reflects Omran’s strategic role as a catalyst of investment that forges solid partnerships with trusted developers like Majid Al Futtaim to create sustainable urban destinations and significant socioeconomic benefits to the Sultanate. International conferences and exhibitions also bring the opportunity to showcase Oman to the world and lead to knowledge transfer and exchange, future investment potential, creation of business to business opportunities, job creation and SME development.
The new mixed-use community is located at the western area of Madinat Al Irfan and spans over 4.5 million sqm. The joint venture project investment value is estimated at Ro5bn over a period of 20 years and is anticipated to create more than 30,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country. Centrally located in Muscat’s urban corridor, the development will become the gateway to Oman; creating a modern downtown for residents, businesses and visitors.
MINA QABOOS WATERFRONT
Complementing its hotel pipeline, the Sultanate has made significant investments in other tourism infrastructure facilities. In yet another major initiative, Mina Qaboos Waterfront project planned in Muscat port will usher in a new concept in port developments in the Sultanate. The new port concept is a kind of waterfront port catering to cruise ships, as well as investments in hotels, restaurants, cafes and so on. Omran and Dubai- based DAMAC International, inked a landmark agreement to redevelop Muscat Port into a worldclass mix use waterfront destination. The capital expenditure of the project is estimated at $ 1 billion. The old commercial harbour is proposed to be transformed into an integrated tourist port and lifestyle destination that includes hotels, residences, as well as a dining, retail, leisure and community facilities designed to position Muscat as a top waterfront destination in the governorate. The proposed Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront project will include berths for cruise ships, a marina for super yachts and leisure ports, 4 and 5- star marina hotels, hotel- operated branded residential apartments, waterside restaurants, cafes and boutiques, conference and banquet facilities, entertainment and cultural facilities, fisherman’s wharf, and historic souq.
INVESTMENT IN INTERIORS
Plans to develop the interior areas of the Sultanate as part of the country’s long- term tourism strategy are now underway. Developing these areas was part of the government’s tourism plan under the Future Vision 2040, which involves economic diversification and less reliance on fossil fuels to guard the nation’s economy. Under this plan, the governorates of Muscat, Musandam, Dakhiliyah and South Sharqiyah will first be targeted.
The government is focusing on
developing employment for the future generation, as well as developing other parts of Oman. A key component of the strategy is cluster planning. The strategy will use five planning concepts, namely tourism sites, planning attractions, planning resorts, national interest planning and itinerary planning. One of the most important objectives that the Oman tourism strategy seeks to achieve is increasing the contribution of tourism sector into the GDP, in collaboration with sustainable development practices currently taking place in other economic sectors.
The Ministry of Tourism has realised the key role tourism plays in enhancing the standard of living of our population. Another objective of the tourism sector is to capitalise on the capability of the tourism sector in job creation, and provide employment opportunities, in addition to sustainably support the development of small businesses.
As part of this plan, Musandam has been earmarked as a coastal wilderness destination and Dakhiliyah as a heritage, nature and adventure destination, due to the presence of the governorate’s key UNESCO listed forts, castles, falaj systems and traditional villages. Muscat will be Oman’s highend cultural heritage destination. The aim is to build Muscat as the country’s national gateway for arts, heritage, culture and older legendary architecture.
Sharqiyah South has been looked at as a destination for fortresses, mountain villages and canyons. The area is also famous for its wadis, oasis life, golden sands, dhow building and turtle nesting in the Gulf.
In particular, development has been targeted towards Jabal Akhdar and Jabal Shams in the Dakhiliyah Governorate, and Sur and Masirah in South Sharqiyah. Key stakeholders in this project involve, in addition to the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, as well as Muscat Municipality.
In short, major upgrades and projects are definitely the way to go and Oman is working on the tools needed to fulfil the future goals to boost tourism growth.