A recent initiative by the Sultanate to promote nature tourism is a very commendable step indeed, and most certainly one in the right direction. It was only the other day that Tourism Minister HE Ahmed Bin Nasser Al Mahrzi issued a statement saying a joint initiative with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs was looking into the possibilities and potential for promoting this type of tourism in a big way. The idea is to take full advantage of the unique biodiversity of the Sultanate and give tourists from outside a unique taste of nature and adventure tourism. This should no doubt in the long run bring about a substantial increase in revenue from this sector. This initiative fits in very well with the government’s national plan for economic diversification. Fifteen pilot projects for nature and adventure tourism presently on the anvil are a clear indication of the government’s intention to open up to the world the Sultanate’s natural resources – its mountains, beaches, seas, wadis and desert, together with its flora and fauna – so that the country can truly live up to its now famous tag-line ‘Beauty has an address’.
In order to give a more concrete shape to this initiative, the government has announced that it is to support private investment in natural reserves. An investor from Kuwait has already evinced interest in developing the Salil natural reserve in Kamel Wa Wafi in South Sharqiyah. There will be local investment in the prestigious rock garden in Dqum.
The minister explained that the Salil reserve and the rock garden would be among the first private investments in natural sites and reserves. The ministry aims to protect them so that the visitor can get a perfect experience, tailor made to suit their personal preferences. Tour operators bringing in tourists from European countries and the Americas are always looking at new ways in which they can market and promote tourism destinations. And this kind of niche tourism, as nature and adventure activities are often referred to as, features high on the list of foreign travellers looking for something different, something extra and something unique. The Minister had also said Tanfeeth, the national programme on diversification, sets the standards, regulations and requirements for the investment in natural sites and reserves. The decision to invite private players as investment partners will hasten the process of developing these nature tourist locations and make them accessible to tourists. These have been in consultations with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs. Nature sites and reserves have been among the biggest tourist attractions. Statistics shows that the number of tourists to such sites like Wadi Bani Khalid, Ras Al Ganz and Jebel Akhdar reached 307,000 in 2015, clinching a share of 16 per cent of the total tourists. The increase since 2011 has been going steady at 12 per cent. These figures indicate that the opportunities are galore and vast to bring in more visitors and help make a more effective contribution to the tourism economy of the Sultanate and increase government income and reduce spending on the maintenance and protection of these sites.