Oman is carving out a niche as an upmarket tourist destination, taking advantage of its rich history and folk traditions.
The success of this year’s Khareef Festival is a sign that this tactic is paying off. Meanwhile, Muscat is increasingly being seen as a fine destination, with several top-end developments underway nearby.
A recent article in the UK’s The Times newspaper suggested that Oman is setting out its stall as an upmarket destination in the region, consciously contrasting with the bright lights of other Gulf states. “Oman is much more in touch with its Arabian roots,” a travel industry spokesman told the newspaper. “It is not so westernised. It is more traditional.”
Dubai was criticised for being “chavvy” – English slang for a place or product popular with loutish and uncivilised Britons.
A total of 125,000 British tourists are expected to visit Oman this year, a fourfold increase in as many years. Britain’s colonial links with Oman and a steady publicity drive in the UK make the Sultanate popular with Britons.
Oman is selling itself as a destination with rich culture and history offering historical and cultural attractions include forts, mosques and traditional festivals. More than 350,000 tourists visited this year’s Khareef Festival, an increase of 23.5 per cent on 2006. Of these, around 184,000 were foreign visitors, many of them from other GCC member states, notably the UAE.
The Khareef Festival, held every summer in the Dhofar region in the far south of the country, has become one of the recent big successes of Oman’s tourism scene. The festival celebrates the monsoon – Dhofar is one of the only areas on the Arabian peninsula which is directly affected by the South Asian monsoon.
The festival in July and August featured folk traditions including dancing, music, poetry recitals, handicraft displays and games. It is a prime example of Oman’s policy of supporting its living traditions as a tourist draw card.
While many visitors are attracted to Oman for its beaches, nature, festivals and mountains outside Muscat, the capital is asserting itself as a highlight in its own right. The city has an impressive array of sights, and a crop of new resorts and hotels are appearing in the city and its environs. It will soon be surrounded by more top-end resorts, such as the $800-million The Wave and the $1.4 billion Salam Spa and Resort at Yiti, making it the envy of most world capitals.
Meanwhile, nurturing of Oman’s historic sights and folk traditions continues. As the Sultanate and its capital become more well-known due to careful marketing, they look set to draw in “the right sort of tourist”.
By Jason J Nash
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