Thousands of tourists are expected to flock to the country’s southern region in Dhofar as the Khareef (monsoon) season sets in, from now until September 21. During this time, the mountains and plains become lush green, making Dhofar an important tourism destination, especially for many of its rain-thirsty neighbours.
Sheikh Salim bin Ofait Al Shanfri, head of the Dhofar Municipality and head of the organising committee of the Salalah Tourism Festival, said all preparations for the Salalah Tourism Festival from June 30 to August 31 are complete. “This year’s version is entitled, ‘Oman Prosperity and Development’ and is designed to reflect the atmosphere of brotherhood, love and prosperity being enjoyed by the Sultanate,” he said.
Salalah Tourism Festival will see an average of 30,000 to 55,000 visitors daily. Last year, the Khareef season attracted 652,000 visitors until September 21, as per the statistics from a survey conducted by the National Centre for Statistics and Information.
Thirteen new hotels started operating in the sultanate during the first five months of this year alone, and the number will increase to 81 hotels by 2018. According to the Ministry, the total number of rooms by the end of 2016 was 18,825 rooms distributed throughout the sultanate, through hotels, resorts, hotel apartments, tourist camps, rest houses, guest houses, heritage hotels and green hotels.
Despite the volatile economic conditions in the region due to the low oil prices, and slow growth in investment, the tourism sector in the Sultanate of Oman is witnessing increasing mobility and demand that drives investors to move forward with tourism and hotel projects that meet this demand.
The number of hotel establishments in the sultanate reached 352 hotel establishments by June 1. The number of hotel establishments by the end of 2016, at 339, increased by 6.6 per cent compared to the year 2015, which was at 318 hotel establishments. The number is expected to rise in 2017 to 352 hotels, it has been reported.
According to the latest data from STR, Oman currently has 15,843 hotels, with another 6,347 rooms in the pipeline, representing growth of 40.1 per cent.
“Even though rooms are coming up in large numbers, Oman is not a mass tourism destination. We would like to maintain our quality and traditions. It is very important that we do not lose our essence in the journey to get more visitors,” Asma Al Hajry, assistant director general tourism promotions and marketing, told TTN.
Investment in the tourism sector is set to hit $1.17 billion by 2026, according to some reports.
Oman has pledged investments of $2.5 billion for the Omagine Project – a mixed-use development set on 245 acres of prime beachfront facing the Gulf of Oman, which is an integration of cultural, heritage, educational, entertainment and residential elements. Its completion will add to Oman’s growing cultural tourism sector, which includes 18 museums, four Unesco World Heritage Sites, the Royal Opera House Muscat and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
“Oman is an experience destination, not just sand and beach. We are seeing a lot of people coming to the country for culture, adventure and relaxation but adventure has been the main pillar of Oman tourism with trekking and diving being some of the most favoured activities,” said Al Hajry.
In Oman, three million tourists visited the Sultanate in 2016, of which 299,568 were Indian. Historically, numbers increased 17 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014 and, over the last five years, Oman has seen a 60 per cent increase in the total number of arrivals from India. “The Indian market has been growing very fast for us, especially after we have started promoting Oman as a wedding destination. We hosted about 11 to 12 large-scale Indian weddings in Muscat last year. Indian travellers have also been coming from the GCC.”
Most important feeder markets for this year is UK at number one but in terms of volume, of course it is the GCC and India. Germany and France are also key markets, she adds. We are currently getting a lot of requests from our trade partners in the Chinese market. This is very interesting news for us, as going forward China will become a very important market for us, also Russia and USA.”
Visitor numbers in the first ten months of 2016 reached 2.5 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 15 per cent.
With the recent opening of the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, which is expected to host around 28 exhibitions this year, the market is expected to see a slight recovery, with the hotel occupancy forecasted to close at 58 per cent.
A further area of growth for Oman is through passengers arriving at the country’s airports, with a 17 per cent increase in total airport arrivals through to the end of December 2016, while the new terminal at Muscat International Airport, which is expected to open this year, will have a capacity of 12 million passengers per annum.
Salalah International Airport (SAIA) has a current capacity of one million travellers annually with the ability to increase this further by up to six million.
And six other airports are either in planning or construction phase, including the new airport at Ras Al Hadd.
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