April 9, 2019 |
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been hogging the regional limelight for a number of years. Tales of mega projects and a liberalisation of laws have kept the mainly western world enthralled. Whilst the UAE has been on the trail of western tourists for a number of years now, Saudi Arabia is just starting this journey by developing a number of projects on its Red Sea coast.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is made up of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, the latter of which is starting to take some significant strides towards developing its own tourism infrastructure.
Significantly positioned on both the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Hormuz, Oman has enjoyed trading powers since the late 17th century when it, along with the United Kingdom and Portugal, controlled the routes from the east and the spice haven of Zanzibar into Iran and then onwards into Europe.
However the downside of this strategic position was the constant threat of invasion and occupation. The Portuguese reigned in Muscat (1507-1650) for 143 years only to be overthrown by the Ottomans but, except for a brief Persian invasion in the late 1740s, Oman has been self-governing ever since. As Oman’s power started to wane in the 20th century, they came under the influence of the United Kingdom who helped the Sultan quell a rebellion over the right to grant oil concessions.
This historical vying for power to control firstly the trade routes and more latterly the production of energy, Oman is ranked 25th producer of petroleum and 28th producer of natural gas globally, has left a legacy of artefacts that is being used to create a fabulous tourism infrastructure.
Notwithstanding the natural beauty of the Indian Ocean and the spectacular ‘fjords’ of the Musandam peninsula, Oman has UNESCO World Heritage sites including the ancient city of Qalhat as well a number of historical forts, especially the Bahla Fort, that once guarded the coastline and interiors of the country. Throw in some incredible wadis, mountains, canyons and an enormous sinkhole and Oman has everything you would want from a vacation.
To assist in its development, investment in Oman’s tourism and hospitality is set to reach $50 billion over the next two decades. The Tourism 2040 Strategy has been developed to achieve three main objectives: boost inbound tourists, build up the nation’s tourism sector and generate employment for Omanis. Peter Walichnowski, the CEO of Omran, the tourism investment and development arm of the government, recently said ‘In terms of visitations, the target is to get 11.5 million people here by 2040, including 5 million international visitors, while the others are part of the national movement of tourists within the country’.
To achieve this, Oman needs to develop an additional 80 units, comprising 33,000 hotel rooms, 17,000 serviced apartments and 30,000 second homes all of which will create 14m room nights by 2040. There are expected to be 31 new hotels opening in Oman in 2019, with more than 80% of those being 2 and 3 star, thereby widening the appeal of the country to those who do not necessarily want 5 star luxury.
Oman seems to have sat back and watched the developments that have been taking place in the UAE and more recently in Saudi Arabia and decided that their time is now. According to international firm Colliers, Oman will enjoy a 6% growth in tourism from 2018-2022 and the investment in infrastructure can only add to the overall tourist experience.
With an easy entry process, a new airport, existing natural and historical beauty and a positive understanding of consumer behaviour, is Oman set to become the next regional hotspot for tourists?
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