Oman: a different kind of destination in the Middle East

Exclusive Interview: Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi, Minister of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman (Official ITB Berlin Partner Country 2020)

Growth of visitor numbers to Oman has, since 2013 not been less than 5.7% per annum. We asked Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi, the nation’s Minister of Tourism, to tell us more.

We think this kind of growth will continue up to 2028, and international reports con rm this. The government is taking care of the tourism sector, because we want to develop five sectors, including tourism, so as not to be so dependent on oil revenues. With oil prices constantly fluctuating, this is very bad for our future. Along with tourism, we aim to develop agriculture, light industry, logistics, and mining. One of our main exports is marble, which we even export to Europe. But we need to take care of our culture, our identity, and thus to avoid overtourism. The population of Oman is small: only three-million Omanis and a total of four-point- ve million including foreign nationals. People are open to foreigners, but they don’t yet understand the tourism sector as a “business”. This is why we have created our own strategy up to 2040, taking care of these aspects – specially the culture. We also want to target adventure tourism, with hiking, biking and climbing, and so on. We have mountains, desert and beautiful seas for diving. MICE is another sector we want to grow. We intend to limit the number of tourists, but concentrate on those who spend more.

WE HAVE OUR OWN HISTORY AND CULTURE AND WE WANT TO SHOW THIS.

What are the main source markets and how are they evolving?

The gulf countries – especially in June, July and August. They come to the south of Oman, because in these months, the weather is similar to India, with rain, and temperatures dropping to the mid 20s, when the weather is very hot in the north of Oman. It’s not far for them, and they prefer to come by car. In the winter time, they come to the north of Oman. After that, there’s the Europeans, with the number one market being the UK. We also have many visitors from Germany and France. There are an increasing number of charter ights from Europe to the south of Oman – to Salalah. New markets for us are China, Iran and India. Indians have been coming for a long time, but we have been increasing our focus on this market since last year. Oman Air is increasingly opening up new destinations. They have been ying to new destinations in the United States and Australia since last year.

What are the key aims of your Official ITB Berlin Partner Country status in 2020?

The most important thing for us is to differentiate Oman from our neighbours. We have our own history and culture and we want to show this. We believe today’s tourists are looking for a different experience. They want something special, and we think we can offer this. We will be showing our culture, showing we are different, showing we are a safe destination. We are open to all cultures and all religions. Churches and even Buddhist temples can be found in Oman and have been there for a long time. In the next year, we hope more people will be talking about our culture and our key points of differentiation.

What will next year’s opening ceremony be focussed on?

It will really spotlight our culture, in particular our orchestra, which is renowned in the region. We send young people to Switzerland and Austria to learn music. We also have opera. We share many international values with Europe in this sense.

What’s being done to develop infrastructure?

Firstly, we have our new airport, we have a very good road system – even winning a prize this year thanks to our excellent, modern road network. In terms of communication, we have a better level of performance than even some European countries. Most of the world’s most famous hotel brands are present in Oman.

What is your message to the world’s travel professionals at ITB Berlin?

This is the real “authentic” place – Oman. Our people are always smiling, to the point that foreigners can even be surprised by their friendliness. Our country is very open to cultures from around the world.


Photo: Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Hamed Al Mahrizi Minister of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman