Muscat: Omanisation, lack of interest among nationals to work in the industry, unprofessional taxi drivers and difficulties at immigration checkpoints are among the key challenges facing the growth of tourism in the Sultanate.
Oman's Ministry of Tourism has identified the most important challenges facing the tourism industry, which, if addressed, can be turned into opportunities that could speed up development of the tourism sector.
In a recent forum attended by ministry officials and representatives working in the tourism sector, a presentation was made about the challenges in several areas, including Omanisation, services and quality, promotion, immigration and transport.
According to information provided to the Times of Oman during the briefing, it was revealed that the Ministry of Tourism had launched an email campaign for a survey that included 400 questions collected from 150 tourism-related organisations.
The feedback was later consolidated and the questions were re-grouped to address the issues. The ministry shared the consolidated survey, which was also delivered to government agencies.
Oman's road map for tourism development and its tourism strategy were also discussed, and it was mentioned that the Ministry of Tourism had a long-term strategy, as part of a project assigned to THR, a worldwide tourism strategy consultant.
In addition, it was stated that the ministry had engaged major firms to assess the current situation and set new parameters for classifications and measurements.
Further, the ministry had also begun to work with major firms with significant experience in developing heritage sites. The ministry has additionally been making efforts to help develop public facilities and eco-tourism infrastructures.
The attendees were briefed about some of the main challenges in the tourism sector that are related to Omanisation.
Points that were mentioned included that the Omanisation percentage needs to be revised and that there is a lack of interest by Omanis in joining the hospitality sector.
Non-availability of skilled Omani staff for certain positions, turnover of local workforce, training local staff, recruitment difficulties, local labour language skills and lack of availability of professional tour guides were other issues that were touched upon.
According to the manpower statistics for the tourism sector collected through December 2013, 18,531 employees were working in the tourism sector – 7,324 Omanis and 11,207 expatriates, with the Omanisation rate reaching 39.5 per cent.
Further, statistics indicate that 71 per cent of the employees in the hotel sector are expatriates. The Omanisation employment target for 3, 4 and 5 star hotels is 85 per cent, while it is 55 per cent for 1 and 2 star hotels.
Additionally, 65 per cent of tour operators are expatriates, though the Omanisation target is 95 per cent. In other tourism businesses, Omanis account for 60 per cent of the employees, while the target is 90 per cent. In terms of services and quality, it was stated that one of the main challenges is that there has been no guidance from the quality control directorate to help organisations.
According to the ministry's presentation, multiple licensing complications for hotels pose another challenge. The lack of experience of the ministry's junior staff in dealing with tourism organisations and entertainment essential for tourism are other issues that need to be addressed.
As far as promotional efforts are concerned, it was stated that more promotions and marketing for destinations are required
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