Muscat: Driving to Salalah’s 2019 Khareef Festival will be safer, thanks to the Ministry of Transport’s new road plans.
Recently published figures reveal that more than 40 people died while driving to and from Dhofar during the festival months last year.
More than 800,000 people visited Salalah for Khareef last year, and while the number of fatalities is low, the government is pushing to complete upgrades on notorious accident blackspots.
According to data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), 43 people were killed on the road from Nizwa to Salalah from May to October, 2018.killed on the road from Nizwa to Salalah from May to October, 2018.
A further 79 were injured in the 57 road accidents which took place on the road, and involved families who were headed to or returning from Salalah.
While presenting plans for 2019, Dr Ahmed Al Futaisi, the Minister of Transport and Communications, announced plans to open a new dual carriageway from Adam to Thumrait before the Khareef season, which traditionally runs from June to September.
The new road is expected to provide an alternate route to Salalah and Dhofar, and ease the pressure on the existing routes to the city.
“In the transport and road sector we are planning on opening part one and two of the Adam-Thumrait dual carriageway road before Khareef season begins,” said Al Futaisi.
Mohamad Tabook, the acting director of Design and Projects at the Transport Directorate in Dhofar said, “The opening of the new dual carriageway from Adam to Thumrait will help in bringing down the number of fatal road accidents. There is also a plan to build roads for trucks from Thumrait to Salalah as most of the road accidents that take place during the season on this Thumrait-Salalah stretch are because of trucks.”
He added, “Speeding, overtaking and using phones while driving are the main reasons behind the fatal accidents that took place in this stretch.”
The number of visitors to Salalah during last year’s Khareef season last year saw an increase of 28.1 per cent compared to the previous year. More than 800 thousand people visited Salalah during Khareef, according to figures. 72 per cent of these visitors were Omanis and 19 per cent were GCC nationals. Over 600 thousand of them arrived by land, while the number those travelling by air stood at just under 170 thousand.
Some 98,000 vehicles entered the Dhofar Governorate during the season, bringing OMR 225,761,963 in total fuel sales at petrol stations according to the NCSI. The Khareef season is known for being Dhofar’s traditional tourist season, in contrast to the rest of the Sultanate, which enjoys tourists from September to April.
“The Khareef Festival is a huge draw for tourists during the monsoon season,” said James Hewitson, general manager at Anantara Al Baleed resort in Salalah. “Not only is the weather quite nice to spend time outdoors, but the festival also offers visitors an authentic glimpse into Omani heritage with traditional performances, local handicrafts and all sorts of Oman’s best food. The Khareef season is a busy time in Salalah with GCC guests flocking from all around the region to escape the heat.
“This is in contrast to the winter season when many Europeans come to Salalah to escape their cold winters. Salalah is very fortunate to have two very different seasons that both generate equally good business from different markets. We generally see business coming in later and more last minute during Khareef as guests normally wait to hear reports on the waterfalls and greenery before deciding to book. Many people drive down to Salalah so are not restricted to flights and then once here in Salalah look to book their accommodation.”
Ali Al Barwani of the Oman Road Safety Association said people need to be careful while travelling to the Khareef festival.
“We cannot ignore the point that the road is a main contributor to the road accidents,” he admitted. “Such stretches are very busy during the Khareef season and some people are driving on that route for the first time,unaware of what challenges the road presents. Poor driving habits such as speeding, incorrect undertaking and not preparing properly for the journey as well as the absence of street lights all contribute to the numbers of fatal accidents.”