Muscat: International tourist arrivals in the Sultanate of Oman are expected to increase steadily over the next few years. Muriya is contributing with a total of 13 hotels to support this growth, seven in Salalah Beach and six in Jebel Sifah with three already operational at both the places, says Issam Al Barawani, senior director, Operations Destination, Salalah.
What sets Salalah Beach apart from other properties in Dhofar governorate and in the region in general?
Salalah Beach is the first Integrated Tourism Complex (ITC) in the Dhofar governorate. The major difference compared to other developments is that Salalah Beach is a fully integrated town that offers a congruent community experience. Whether it is the 200-berth inland marina including a marina town with its own restaurants and cafés, or the available luxury hotels or the first of its kind in Oman, manmade lagoon offering gondola rides, Salalah Beach is a destination that can always offer something extra to residents and visitors alike.
We recently opened Salalah Rotana Resort, the largest hotel by room size in the city and the largest single hotel in Oman. With 400 rooms, it is the second hotel at the destination following the Juweira Boutique Hotel opened in 2012. We are set to start our next hotel project adding 220 rooms. In addition, Salalah Beach comprises high-end luxury freehold apartments and villas with 77 units handed over to date. Once completed, the destination will include a total of seven hotels and two 18-hole PGA golf courses among a wide selection of retail and restaurant facilities.
A closer look at what sets Salalah Beach apart is the identity of Salalah that is infused in each element of the destination. Construction style, hospitality and natural beauty are utilised as springboards to promote Muriya's master plan of creating towns and communities. Salalah Beach is becoming the umbrella under which our successful operations in the southern part of the Sultanate are taking place. We are contributing to build that image of Salalah as one of the most exciting tourist destinations.
What kind of impact will the property have on the local economy — especially in terms of Omanisation?
The Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2014 assesses that the travel and tourism industry had directly contributed three per cent to Oman's GDP in 2013 and is to rise by 10.2 per cent in 2014. In addition, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report has calculated Oman's travel and tourism industry to employ approximately 73,000 people throughout the country in the current year. These statistics help us put into perspective our contribution to the ongoing tourism development in the Sultanate.
With the opening of the different facilities and amenities within Salalah Beach, we are expecting to add hundreds of jobs in the next five years. We are contributing to a sustainable tourism industry for the whole country to reap its benefits year-after-year. To successfully build an ITC like Salalah Beach and have a positive impact on the local economy, you have to acknowledge tourism as a crosscutting industry that offers opportunities to a number of sectors including real estate, hospitality, construction, F&B, FMCG among others. This requires outsourcing of contracts to have all pieces of the puzzle come together. It is a simple chain rather than a complicated puzzle referring back to that analogy, which offers the local community the opportunity to be an integral part of delivering the products and services.
Who are the visitors you are expecting at the Salalah Beach, are they from GCC, Oman or across the world?
We are developing Salalah Beach as a year-round destination bearing in mind that the demographic of arriving tourists are season-driven. While we are targeting all the above, local and GCC tourists visit more during Khareef season to enjoy the earthy refreshing weather. During other times of the year, the destination is transformed into a haven for sun-lovers and water activity enthusiasts.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the Sultanate is aiming to attract 12 million visitors per year by 2020. Supporting our expansion plans and additions to the destination is the upgrade in capacity of Salalah International Airport, as the new terminal is expected to open by late 2014. With an initial capacity of one million passengers per year and ultimately reaching six million passengers, we are expecting more visitors to come from Europe and other parts of the world. Orascom, the majority shareholder of Muriya, has recently acquired stakes in two leading German tour operators, which will increase our visibility in Europe and highlight our destinations. The acquisitions mean over 7,000 travel bureaus in Germany will have information about Jebel Sifah, Salalah Beach and Oman in general and will open the door for cooperation agreements around the world to increase tourism to the Sultanate.
Having a presence in Oman, what differentiates tourism in Sultanate from other countries in the region?
When developing our destinations, Salalah Beach south or Jebel Sifah north, we are constantly infusing Oman's individuality and character into the mix. We are incorporating the Sultanate's uniqueness, which sets it apart in every element of design, services and locality. Our visitors, in addition to enjoying the nature, beaches, deserts and mountains, get to interact with the friendly and hospitable people of the Sultanate.
Do you have any suggestions for the traveller who would like to experience Salalah?
While we encourage our guests and visitors to avail of the offers and promotions that we have throughout Salalah Beach, including water sports or a lagoon gondola tour, we also want them to experience the city and its heritage. There are a variety of activities including shopping at Haffa Souk, exploring the starting point of the ancient Frankincense trail in Wadi Darbat, rediscovering the Lost City of Ubar. In addition, Jabal Samhan offers the more adventurous visitors a wonderful hiking experience while enjoying the great weather and striking scenery.
What key trends do you anticipate will shape the future of tourism, both in the short term and the long term?
For the short term and focusing on 2014 from a global perspective, surveys have shown that consumers intend to spend more on their holidays in 2014 than they did in 2013. This statistic supports the positive outlook for the holiday market with increasing growth rates of economies and improved consumer confidence. Beach holidays and city breaks are expected to remain the most popular holiday choices for 2014. We at Muriya relate to both categories at Salalah Beach and Jebel Sifah, respectively.
In the long term, the next two decades will be of sustained growth for the tourism sector. International tourist arrivals are estimated to increase. If we talk about Oman in specific, the Sultanate's tourism sector has experienced rapid growth over the years, with international arrivals expected to reach 3.2 million by 2023. This high growth can be ascribed to the government's initiatives to develop niche tourism and promote the country as a leisure and business destination. Other trends that are shaping the industry include the increase in travel accommodation supply.