When Oman announced a mega $800 million tourism resort project last year, it made waves in the industry and sent a clear signal that the Sultanate intended to keep up – and compete – with its neighbours in Dubai and further up north in Bahrain and Qatar.
A year on and the ambitious $805 million tourism project, called The Wave is getting set for take of, following the decision of Dubai’s Majid Al Futtaim Investments (MAFI) to join hands in the development of its first phase.
The Wave, is an integrated residential and tourism resort planned along a pristine stretch of beachfront stretching from Al Athaiba to Seeb in Muscat Governorate.
Waterfront Investments (WI), representing the Government of Oman, and National Investment Funds Company (NIFCO), representing Omani pension funds and the State General Reserve Fund have teamed up with MAFI to form a joint venture company to launch the project.
Once the new company is incorporated, work will begin to reclaim land, build the infrastructure and construct select landmarks of The Wave such as an 18-hole PGA golf course and a marina with yacht club. The luxury hotels and exclusive villas and condominiums of the resort will be constructed in Phase Two.
The Wave has the potential to launch the Sultanate as an international leisure destination, according to industry experts.
The upscale property, set on 200 hectares along 7.3 km of beachfront, is conceived as an exquisite tourism and residential seafront resort designed to be integrated into the Arabic culture, heritage and geography of Oman.
Development of The Wave, conceived by the state-owned Oman Tourism Development Company (OTDC) with a total investment of RO310 million, will occur in two major phases covering four zones.
For the first stage, a projected total of $82 million will be invested to reclaim some 400,000 sq m of land, develop the infrastructure and build a golf course, marina and yacht club. Next, developers will invest $485 million to construct the hotels, villas, apartments, restaurants, shops and leisure centers for an exclusive resort with a final value of $805 million.
‘‘The Wave captures the essence of this upscale tourism and residential project,’’ says Abdullah bin Abbas bin Ahmad, Head of Muscat Municipality and Chairman of the Oman Tourism Development Company (OTDC). “It reflects Oman’s rich seafaring history and close association with the ocean, as well as the physical shape of the new development.”
At the western edge of The Wave, a five-star, 200 room Spa and Beachfront Hotel will have all the trimmings of a luxury facility.
A 300 room Golf and Conference resort nearby will accommodate guests who like to play at the newly constructed 18 hole golf course. 505 premium villas will overlook this golf course or the ocean.
At the centre of The Wave, a marina will provide mooring spaces to 250 boats. A yacht club highlighting Oman’s seafaring heritage, restaurants, shops, and a world bazaar all will invite a visit. While the Marina Tower boutique hotel will accommodate upscale tourists, two Marina Condominium Towers and 850 Marina Village apartments will house future residents.
Visitors and residents alike will enjoy a bustling, happening space, all within easy drive of the capital and the airport.
Another attraction will be a Beach and Sports Resort with a center for scuba diving and water sports. Next to it, 230 beach and residential villas will arise, planned to take advantage of the imminent decision by the government to allow international freehold ownership of residential real estate in Oman. At the eastern end of the Wave, a public beach and a woman’s beach will be developed
Once Phase One of The Wave has been launched, local, regional and international investors will find ample opportunities to invest in constructing and running the individual resort hotels, and building and selling the luxury villas and exclusive condominiums overlooking the Gulf of Oman.
The massive Wave is being developed alongside a government strategy that accords top priority to the development of tourism sector as part of Oman’s diversification programme.
The strategy is aimed at augmenting contribution of tourism sector in the country’s GDP to 3 per cent by 2010 from merely 1 per cent now.
Last year the government and the private sector embarked on a series of landmark initiatives that promise to underpin the growth of a robust tourism sector in the Sultanate. Investments in lavish resort developments and property ownership by foreigners are set to transform the tourism landscape in Oman.
Crowning these developments was the establishment of dedicated Ministry of Tourism – a step that underscores the government’s commitment to nurturing the development of a vibrant tourism industry in Oman.
Meanwhile, other major projects are also on the way up in Oman, including the the Muscat Golf and Country Club and the Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa.
Located in Seeb, the Muscat Golf and Country Club features luxurious villas and apartments and also comes with an all green PGA 18-hole golf course among other sporting and recreational amenities.
Also taking shape is the Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa promoted by Jubair Corporation. The lavish property involves an investment of RO65 million and is set to open next year under the management of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. The Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa features a total of three hotels offering around 670 rooms as well as health club, swimming pools, leisure facilities and private beaches.
Some of the other tourism projects promoted by the government are $20 million Muscat-Sifah tourism corridor, $19 million Ras Al Jinz eco tourism project, $12 million project in Nakhal which will have a boutique hotel with health and hydro spas and access to Nakhal Fort, a $30 million beach retreat in Hayoot (Musandam) and $45 million Salalah Coastal resort which will include leisure facilities, a sports centre, a spa and a beach club.
Meanwhile, Oman is also pressing ahead with plans to further develop its eco-tourism and natural attractions.
Among the initiatives are one on its wetlands, most of which have now been designated as nature reserves. Steps 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, 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 3 km 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 with a capacity for 120 people – opened at Musandam. A second 60-bedroom three-star hotel is being developed 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, recreational 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.