Oman cuts visa fees, promotes stopovers as Muscat celebrates

Oman’s scenic beauty ... the sultanate is targeting 10 per cent growth in tourism

THIS year is expected to be a significant one for Oman’s capital Muscat, which is celebrating its status as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2012.

Oman is looking to capitalise on this opportunity with a new marketing campaign titled ‘Muscat 2012’ to attract visitors.

A new logo, picked from a competition that attracted over 320 entrants, depicts a traditional Omani welcome with dates and coffee and Arabic calligraphy illustrating iconic buildings of Muttrah’s corniche. The logo also uses Oman’s national colours, which represent Omani culture and heritage.

Meanwhile, various initiatives have been put in place to facilitate tourism arrivals into the country this year.  The Ministry of Tourism has made sweeping changes to tourism visas. Now, a tourist visa for up to 10 days costs just OMR5 ($13) and OMR20 ($52) for stays from 10 days to a month.

Ghazi Humeed Al Hashmi, assistant director general of tourism promotion at the Ministry of Tourism,  says: “These prices will prove a boon for the travel trade and short-break leisure travel from the GCC. Stays in Muscat and travel to regional events like Salalah’s Khareef Festival are now more affordable for expatriate families.”

He continues: “We have introduced a high-value stopover campaign with Oman Air. The campaign has strong industry backing and offers considerable value. Stopovers are now possible for all fare classes across Oman’s international network, and can be sold by travel agents. Oman Air’s ‘One Free Night in Oman’ campaign to encourage stopovers on its international network. The campaign runs until December 22, 2012 with the offer available on all classes of travel.

“Muscat 2012 has a fresh and exciting calendar of arts, sports and tourism events. These are not unique compared to those you might see elsewhere in the region, as they focus on our Arabian culture and heritage and complement other activities possible on a short-break to Oma, for example, an evening at the Royal Opera House Muscat.”

This year, the ministry aims to increase the contribution of tourism to the sultanate’s gross domestic product (GDP) from two per cent in 2011 to around 3.5 per cent in 2015 and is eyeing a 10 per cent growth for the sector in 2012. Last year, international arrivals to Muscat topped 2.4 million, an increase of 14 per cent from 2010. The GCC contributed an overall 27 per cent of this growth.

“We expect Muscat’s cultural riches to continue to grow with the opening of the Royal Opera House, Muscat. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre is due to opened in 2015 and will see Oman emerging as an active player in the business travel market,” says Al Hashmi.

Oman’s tourism plans include the study of 30 locations across the country such as the Al Hoota, Majlis al Jinn and Suhoor Caves for potential tourism development and the construction of an archaeological park and a museum at the recently discovered Friday Mosque in Qalhat which was built around 1300 AD.