Muscat: Plans are underway to make Oman a world-class tourism destination, with the Sultanate signing off on several adventure projects that aim to put the country on the global tourism map.
Among these projects are 29 annual events aiming to provide a wide range of entertainment and leisure options to both citizens and residents in the country, as well as tourists from overseas. A separate company will also be set up to organise extreme sports events.
The move is part of the Tanfeedh plan for economic diversification, which has earmarked tourism as one of the areas of high-growth potential for the country, as it looks to move away from traditional oil and gas-based sources of income and expand its revenue base. Tanfeedh is being overseen by the government’s Implementation, Support and Follow-up Unit (ISFU), which published its plans in its recently-released annual report.
These include hot air balloon shows to get a bird’s-eye view of the Sultanate’s natural beauty, cave exploration and mountaineering events to explore the country’s rugged terrain, and trekking opportunities to experience Oman’s varied landscape.
In addition, the Sharqiyah and Musandam regions’ landscapes mean they will be used to showcase the outdoor adventure experiences the country has to offer.
The initial elements of this initiative involve four private projects; Oman X, Hot Air Ballooning, Majlis Al Jinn and Adventure Musandam. Oman X is a company that will promote extreme sports in Oman, and will be set up by ASAAS, or Muscat National Development and Investment Company.
The report by the ISFU said: “Oman X will target local and international tourists and will help make the Sultanate one of the top sports and adventure destinations in the world. Hot Air Ballooning is another key leisure project by ASAAS that will provide a rarely-seen view of Oman’s captivating scenery. ASAAS selected Al Sharqiyah Governorate as a base for this project, due to its popularity with tourists, while the project will be run by Virgin Balloon Flights.”
Part of this is the development of regulations to operate hot air balloons, with the ISFU planning to gain pre-approvals from the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA). The organisation also shared plans on the trekking programme being designed in the country’s northern Governorate of Musandam.
“With regards to Musandam Adventure, the design of trekking paths are currently in the final stages, and the implementation of trekking activities are expected to take place by the middle of 2019,” added the ISFU. “The Ministry of Tourism and OMRAN signed a contract to develop adventure activities in Musandam.”
Another area earmarked for development is the Majlis Al Jinn cave complex in the North Sharqiyah Governorate. Located some 160km from the capital, Muscat, and about 100km from the regional capital of Ibra, it is considered to be among the 10 biggest cave complexes in the world, prompting the Ministry of Tourism to develop it as a heritage and tourism site.
The ISFU report added: “The Ministry of Tourism (MoT) and OMRAN will implement the development of Majlis Al Jinn in three phases, the first of which will include the removal of all old fixtures and development of newly marked trails inside the cave.”
In addition to the development of adventure activities within the country, Tanfeedh also plans to introduce a year-round calendar of 29 events which will include 12 sport and 17 non-sporting events. One of the events under consideration is creating a promotional event specifically for Omani halwa.
Last year, 20 out of the targeted 29 events took place. A few of the successful events included the Century Ride, the Muscat Marathon, Muscat Eat, and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc competitive cycling event. These events brought to Oman international and domestic participation and its economic impact amounted to approximately OMR 7.66 million.
Under the Tanfeedh plans, efforts are also underway to create a dedicated cultural area that offers domestic and international tourists a wide range of creative attractions centred on food and beverages.
Among the initiatives under this project are the Muscat Food Court, which will also be present at food and beverage events at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre. Another part of this initiative involves improving the food truck business environment by making amendments to the food truck rules and regulations to help SMEs set up their own food trucks.
“In 2019, the working group will develop a food hygiene rating system, bed and breakfast establishments (B&B) and food and beverage incubators dedicated to SMEs,” the ISFU said.
Finally, Tanfeedh is also looking into the development of an iconic project by choosing a historic location and opening it up for investment. The initiative was able to identify a plot of land in Ras Al Hadd, which was an abandoned airport runway and lends itself to an interesting story on how it became one of Oman’s iconic landmarks.
The ISFU also shared how successful its previous tourism projects had been. The development of adventure projects reached 80 per cent of its target last year. While improvement of the food truck business environment achieved 90 per cent of its target, food and beverages events at OCEC achieved 100 per cent of its estimated target.
On the other hand, the initiative to create a promotional event of Omani halwa only reached 40 per cent of its target. Similarly, the Muscat Food Court only achieved 30 per cent of its target in 2018.
Hoteliers and tour operators in Oman were excited to see what this would bring to the country. Eunice Fernando, Director of Marketing and Communications for the InterContinental Hotel Muscat, said: “These are great additional services, because many of the visitors who come here do so for leisure. It will therefore help to have a steady flow of tourists. Many of the hotels offer tourism experiences for guests, depending on their needs. This helps us to have a fresh programme on a monthly basis, because we have repeat guests. If they come here every year, and they like what the country is doing, then they come back for certain events. It helps us in giving more options to the guests.”
Rebecca Malston, the manager of Omani tour company Guide Oman, said: “Oman is an untapped wealth of opportunities, so it is great that the Ministry of Tourism is starting to offer new activities and starting to expose all these opportunities. I think all tourism operators here will definitely hope for tourism to increase.”
Commenting on some of the outdoor activities people could currently enjoy in the Sultanate, she added: “We currently offer the desert safari, which is a self-drive trip where we teach people how to drive in the desert. People sometimes do ask us for other activities such as snorkelling, which is where we partner with organisers that hold this either in the Dimaniyat Island or in Bandar Khiran, when it comes to hiking and trekking, we collaborate with another company that have skilled, safe, trained operators that do expeditions for cave exploring, climbing activities and via ferrata.”