OMAN is a country with great tourist potential given the abundance of natural beauty – spectacular mountain backdrop coupled with pristine beaches, the wadis and extensive sand dunes, the hot springs and the underwater caves, and the amazing Turtle Beach at Ras al Ginz, are a few examples that immediately come to mind.
Salim Al Mamari, director of the under-secretary for minister of tourism and director of marketing, admitted that while tourism is an important sector of any country, it is highly competitive as well. Hence, the ministry of tourism has already started planning ahead for the coming year. “We would first and foremost concentrate on maintaining and growing our existing market that consists of UK, France, Italy and Germany. In the last two years, we have also reached out to the East, specifically Japan, Australia and Moscow. We are also planning to cover Italy, Belgium and Holland in the coming year,” he said.
Besides highlighting the history, culture and natural beauty of the country, three other issues that the ministry is promoting are cleanliness, quietness and safety. “We will also try and promote MICE tourism in the coming year. The new Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa (the Shangri-La chain is scheduled to open in the second half of next year) will have a convention centre with a capacity to accommodate 2,500 people,” Al Mamari added.
In addition, Oman has a lot to offer in terms of hiking, trekking and caving (or spelunking as it is also called). A few trekking routes have already been charted out by international experts from Australia in Nizwa, Jabal Akhtar and Sharqiyah regions. The ministry is also holding talks with international airlines to have direct flights to Muscat. Earlier this year, Gulf Air started its direct flight to London. Currently, talks are on with airlines like Lufthansa, Air France and Swiss as well.
In an effort to open up Oman’s magnificent cave heritage to tourists and international caving buffs, the government is investing in developing the Al Hoti Caves in Al Hamra, near Nizwa. What sets it apart is that it has a natural cave system to which Wadi Hota connects underground. It is about 3km long with giant stalactites, stalagmites, columns and draperies as well as a lake in the centre that allows for paddling around the cave. To provide accommodation close to tourist spots like Hoti caves, the government is looking at setting up youth hostels as well as three- to four-star hotels in the coming year. While Al Hamra, close to the Hoti caves, Salalah and the east coast of Oman, will have youth hostels in the coming year, Masirah Island, close to Sur, will see a three- and four-star hotel being completed by the second half of 2005.
Another plan is to develop hot mineral springs at Rustaq, Al Ansab and Bowshar (Muscat) into natural spas and large swimming pools where visitors can relax and recuperate. “We are open to local or international investment to utilise these hot springs for medication,” said Al Mamari. The wellness centres are sure to appeal to the growing health-based tourism projects and some should be operational in the second half of next year.
With so many projects in the pipeline, Oman could turn into a leading tourist destination in the Middle East.
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