OMAN: A DIFFERENT KIND OF DESTINATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Exclusive Interview: Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman (Official ITB Berlin Partner Country 2020)

Growth of visitor numbers to Oman has, since 2013 not been less than 5.7% per annum. We asked Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi, the nation’s Minister of Tourism, to tell us more.

We think this kind of growth will continue up to 2028, and international reports confirm this. The government is taking care of the tourism sector, because we want to develop five sectors, including tourism, so as not to be so dependent on oil revenues. With oil prices constantly uctuating, this is very bad for our future. Along with tourism, we aim to develop agriculture, light industry, logistics, and mining. One of our main exports is marble, which we even export to Europe. But we need to take care of our culture, our identity, and thus to avoid overtourism. The population of Oman is small: only three-million Omanis and a total of four-point-five million including foreign nationals. People are open to foreigners, but they don’t yet understand the tourism sector as a “business”. This is why we have created our own strategy up to 2040, taking care of these aspects – specially the culture. We also want to target adventure tourism, with hiking, biking and climbing, and so on. We have mountains, desert and beautiful seas for diving. MICE is another sector we want to grow. We intend to limit the number of tourists, but concentrate on those who spend more. Recently, the Sultanate has taken certain important measures that have had positive impacts on the tourism sector of our country. These measures included making tourism visa easy, increasing investment in the sector, establishing more hotel and other related establishments, increasing promotional drive and exploring new markets.

WE HAVE MOUNTAINS, DESERT AND BEAUTIFUL SEAS FOR DIVING. MICE IS ANOTHER SECTOR WE WANT TO GROW.

What are the main source markets and how are they evolving?

The gulf countries – especially in June, July and August. They come to the south of Oman, because in these months, the weather is similar to India, with rain, and temperatures dropping to the mid 20s, when the weather is very hot in the north of Oman. It’s not far for them, and they prefer to come by car. In the winter time, they come to the north of Oman. After that, there’s the Europeans, with the number one market being the UK. We also have many visitors from Germany and France. There are an increasing number of charter flights from Europe to the south of Oman – to Salalah. New markets for us are China, Iran and India. Indians have been coming for a long time, but we have been increasing our focus on this market since last year.

Oman Air is increasingly opening up new destinations. They have been flying to new destinations in the United States and Australia since last year.

What’s being done to develop infrastructure?

Firstly, we have our new airport, we have a very good road system – even winning a prize this year thanks to our excellent, modern road network. In terms of communication, we have a better level of performance than even some European countries. Most of the world’s most famous hotel brands are present in Oman.

At ITB in Berlin 2019, you had excellent participation from Omani tourism companies of different kinds. You must have been pleased with the turn-out – especially with a view to next year’s partner country status…

Yes, I very much appreciated the participation of tourist companies of the sultanate in ITB Berlin. It was part of the efforts being made for private and public partnerships in the tourism sector of our country, finding avenues for cooperation between them. I laud the participation of these Omani tourism companies in international tourism events. The presence of these companies in such platforms opens-up more horizons of development of tourism. I would also like to praise those who work for the introduction of Omani tourism products and services on an international level in general. It is important to promote tourism wherever the opportunity arrives. The Ministry of Tourism is leaving no stone unturned to ensure presence of Oman in all tourism markets, marketing in conventional and social media. Indeed, all efforts are being made to introduce Omani tourism everywhere in the world, with hotels and tourism companies contributing effectively to the promotion of offers and services to attract a larger scale tourism flow. The participation of the Sultanate in the ITB Berlin this year was given extraordinary importance as the Sultanate was officially declared as the official partner of ITB Berlin 2020 on this occasion. This shows Oman’s popularity in the largest international tourism forum. It gives us a wonderful opportunity to introduce our tourism products even more strongly next year, eventually leading to an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supporting the economic diversification efforts of the country.

THE MINISTRY OF TOURISM IS LEAVING NO STONE UNTURNED TO ENSURE PRESENCE OF OMAN IN ALL TOURISM MARKETS, MARKETING IN CONVENTIONAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA.

Oman recently won “Favourite road- trip destination” at Conde Nast Traveller ME’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2018/19. What makes the Sultanate so attractive in this sense?

Being chosen as the “Favourite road-trip destination” was no surprise, as the Sultanate of Oman is bestowed with many kinds of natural scenery, offering combined experiences of both beaches and deserts, mountains and wadis as well as greenery in other parts of the country.

What is your message to the world’s travel professionals?

This is the real “authentic” place – Oman. Our people are always smiling, to the point that foreigners can even be surprised by their friendliness. Our country is very open to cultures from around the world.

Photo: Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi Minister of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman