The Sultanate appears to be effortlessly advancing towards the goals set by its tourism strategy. Its plan to build capacity, so that the country could receive 4.7 million tourists by 2020 has progressed steadfastly despite the tests posed by the low oil price environment. Again, if things appear to move effortlessly, it is because the country’s rulers, administrators and entrepreneurs are labouring to see that those complex projects reach completion. The projects that are under implementation consume substantial financial and technical resources because they are designed in a way that they would succeed in attracting discerning travellers year after year and in ever greater numbers. The new projects, because of their locations, will also ensure that the economic benefits of tourism are spread far wider than thus far. Muscat and Salalah, because of connectivity, attractions and hotel capacity, have benefited greatly from the trade. At the second ‘Get Connected Forum’ held by the Ministry of Tourism recently, it was revealed that the government would attract 1.8 billion rials of investment into projects such as integrated tourism complexes, hotels, malls, and entertainment centres by 2020. Plans are underway for completing 11 such facilities in the cities and interiors; and places such as Barka, Seeb, Muscat, Quriyat, Bausher, Ras Al Hadd and Duqm would, in the coming years, benefit from visits by international and domestic tourists. In Duqm, the newest of the Sultanate’s planned townships, 18km of beach front plots have already been allotted for tourism development. Since many of these projects are located along the sea, close to wadis and mountain ecosystems, it will be ensured that while implementing these projects and newer ones, sustainable development would be the guiding principle.
The country’s ability to sustain local and international investor interest in tourism-related projects is proof that it has established itself as a leading tourist destination that would grow with growth in capacity. Tourism’s ability to stimulate the national economy has been the basis for including it in the Tanfeed programme for economic diversification. With the passage of time it will inevitably lead to a greater number of Omani SMEs providing services and employment to local youth. With a growth in tourists’ activity in their old haunts of Muscat and Salalah and in newer centres, there comes a greater need to ensure that national monuments and fragile ecosystems remain unhurt by this lucrative trade. The authorities, by assessing the carrying capacity of a destination, can ensure that excessive tourist activity does not damage an area. Likewise, by encouraging tour and resort operators to use renewable energy, adopt eco-friendly practices and acquire certification for some or all of these services, the state will ensure that Oman sets an example for others to follow. That these matters were high on the priority of the government was evident when in June last year, Her Excellency Maitha Bint Saif Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism, had said that as tourism expanded, the need to protect the environment on land and at sea from pollution was greater and they were examining the way the trade was conducted. It was equally important to involve local communities in tourist projects and protect the country’s wildlife, she added while unveiling the country’s tourism strategy.