Oman tourism on upswing
The second largest country in the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a chance to visitors to experience the true Arabian way of life and enjoy the natural beauty of a country that only recently began to attract tourism.
The country is divided into eight main regions: Muscat, the administrative and commercial capital; Al Batinah, popular for its fort, castles and pristine beaches; Al Dhahirah, famed for its archaeological findings; Al Dakhiliya, well-known for tourist attractions like Jebel Akhdar or ‘Green Mountains’, pottery centre Bahla and Nizwa fort; Al Sharqiyah favoured for its azure sea, beaches and caves; Al Wusta having an abundance of dolphins and migratory birds; Dhofar, the only region that benefits from the annual Indian monsoon, locally known as Khareef; and Musandam, offering a breathtaking view of the Hajjar mountains
Recently, a spate of projects have come up in Oman that are sure to change the tourist landscape within the next decade. Among the initiatives planned are some centering on Oman’s heritage of wetlands, most of which have now been designated as nature reserves. With regard to eco-tourism, initiatives have been taken to develop facilities at Jiddat al Harasis in the Wusta region, home to the endangered Arabian Oryx.
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 Cave in Al Hamra Wilayat (near Nizwa). What sets it apart is that it has a natural cave system to which Wadi Hota connects underground, commencing from the Al Fallah or Falahi cave. It is 3km long, extremely deep with manhole-size cavities, giant stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, flowstone and columns, as well as a lake in the centre, which allows for paddling around the cave.
Around RO3million has already been spent on developing the site to include a reception building, bridge, trail and sound and light system. It is to be noted that caving (or spelunking as it is also called) has proved to be a major money-spinner in countries that have promoted their cave systems.
In addition, the hot mineral springs at Al Ansab and Rastaq are being developed into natural spas with large swimming pools where visitors could relax and recuperate. These wellness centres are sure to appeal the growing health-based tourism projects.
Jabal Shams, the highest summit in Oman, is also targeted for development as an attraction for adventure tourists. Side-by-side, key historical monuments around the country are also being refurbished – the first phase covers Nizwa, Al Hazm and Khasab forts.
Equally promising is the potential for adventure tourism in the country. The diverse mountain landscapes and wadis are key to the development of adventure tourism in Oman. Trekking routes have already started to be charted in some areas of the Western and Eastern Hajar. Out of a total of 27 trekking routes, nine have already been charted on the ground. The ongoing Wadi Bani Khalid eco-tourism project will have an adventure trail and a restaurant.
The enclave of Musandam, famous for its steep fjords, bird and marine life, and diving sites, is also the focus for tourism development in the government’s five-year development plan. Upgrading the port of Khasab for cruise vessels setting up of upmarket hotels and resorts is part of the plan. In December 2003, Golden Tulip (a four-star resort with 60 rooms, suites and chalets, and a meeting room of a capacity to accommodate 120 people) opened at Musandam. A second three-star hotel is currently being developed with 60 bedrooms to complement the Golden Tulip.
A master plan has been drawn up for Haycoot Beach Leisure Retreat. This site will provide a spectacular setting from which the beauty of Musandam can be explore. This eco-tourism retreat will be a five-star get away resort of 100 rooms along with recreational facilities. These developments clearly indicate that Oman plans to promote Musandam as a winter holiday destination for international travellers.
Salalah is another destination that has a lot of potential to be developed as a tourist spot. It is the only corner of Arabia that catches the Indian summer monsoon that transforms the countryside into a lush green land with tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams. A four/five-star Coastal Resort is currently open for investment that will provide facility for 250 rooms in addition to a range of recreational, cultural and heritage facilities. Al Sawadi Integrated Tourism Resort will be developed as a stand-alone destination for European guests. About two hours away from capital city Muscat, the project comprises of 12 luxury hotels, two 18-hole golf courses, a family water park, a marina and private villas. The estimate cost would be RO118 million and is currently open for investment.
The first phase of Mirbat Tourism Village is already under way. A private tourism development, the complex will boast of a 5-star hotel with over 200 rooms and 70 chalets, other than a string of restaurants, recreation facilities and other amenities. At a cost of RO11.5 million, the project is expected to be ready in 2007.
For a country that opened up to tourism only a few decades ago, Oman has taken giant steps, which could well, turn it into a leading tourist destination in the Middle East.