‘Oman tourism sector poised for a great year ahead’

Oman Saturday 14/January/2023 21:15 PM
By: Times News Service
‘Oman tourism sector poised for a great year ahead’

MUSCAT: Leading hotel operators in the Sultanate of Oman and Omran Group have expressed optimism on a better tourist inflow and higher revenues during the ongoing holiday season and in the months ahead.

Oman usually witnesses a surge of visitors from Europe during this time of the year and the hotel operators confirmed that they are seeing better occupancy during the festive season.

In fact, the impact of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has left a legacy for the region with travellers across new markets now willing to travel to the region.

Looking ahead to 2023, Mohammed Al Ghufaili, Chief Operating Officer, Omran Group, told Times of Oman, “As we head into the new year, it’s great to see that nearly all travel restrictions have been lifted globally, and airlines are already opening up more routes and increasing the number of flights worldwide.

“Even within Oman, we are taking several steps to facilitate the sector’s growth and boost tourist numbers. The country has already taken steps to speed up visa processes in Oman, with nationals of 103 countries and regions exempt from entry visas for stays up to 14 days. To boost regional tourism, GCC residents of all professions can now enter Oman with a visa-on-arrival or obtain a pre-arranged electronic visa based on their GCC residency status.”

Al Ghufaili said: “At Omran Group, we aim to diversify the Oman tourism portfolio further, adding even more nature, heritage, sports, adventure, and cultural attractions in the coming year. We are investing considerably in developing new destinations at strategic locations across the country, such as the stunning Musandam zipline. 

“This unique project is part of a more extensive development and covers a distance of 1,800m, beginning at the top of a mountain at the height of 250m above sea level and ending at Atana Khasab resort. Once fully operational, it will be one of the unique tourism experiences in the region. Some of the other landmark destinations we are developing include The Sustainable City Yiti, Wadi Dayqah, and more.”

The senior official added: “Omran in collaboration with the relevant ministries, governorate offices, and our group company – Visit Oman – actively promote the country in source markets. The Visit Oman platform (visitoman.om) has also shifted from solely a B2B platform to now providing B2C services, enabling it to serve as a one-stop-shop for all visitor’s tourism needs. This includes everything from planning and itineraries to booking flight tickets and stays. The recent influx of visitors to the platform and our social media campaigns have also helped identify new potential target markets we are looking into approaching in the coming year.

“As a result of these developments, I believe we are poised for a great year ahead. I think the tourism sector’s performance in 2023 has the potential to far surpass not only that of 2022 but also of 2019.”

Al Ghufaili insisted that the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 did benefit Oman’s tourism and hospitality sectors.

He said: “We received an influx of visitors to Oman, most coming from within the region, source markets and beyond.

To ensure they received an unparalleled World Cup experience, an initiative titled the ‘Oman World Cup Programme’ was launched. Alongside a series of promotional campaigns coinciding with the tournament, the programme offered Hayya cardholders and their families a free 60-day multiple-entry visa, unique fast-track routes and gates at the airport, daily shuttle flights to Qatar, and several unique experiences and a wide range of transportation and accommodation offers. The programme was overseen by the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Royal Oman Police, Omran Group, Oman Air, and Oman Airports along other public and authorities and private entities.”

Al Ghufaili said that the World Cup “brought in considerable interest from countries aside from traditional source markets, such as those from the continents of South America and Europe.”

He added: “The interest was reflected in the response we received for the Oman World Cup Programme campaigns, spearheaded by the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, including the #OmanMatchReady and #HalfTimeForOman campaigns held before and during the World Cup, respectively. These campaigns received unprecedented engagement from users worldwide, particularly from countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Netherlands, Serbia and more, collectively amounting to over 63 million impressions and over one million clicks. The #HalfTimeForOman campaign, which saw us give away 128 holidays to Oman during the half-time of every World Cup match, also received well over 30,000 entries. This is a clear indication of Oman’s growing popularity across the globe.

“At hotels in Muscat, a significant positive impact was seen in their occupancy and revenue, primarily from F&B and banqueting. This resulted from the various fan celebrations and festivals being held at hotels and tourist locations across the capital.”

Speaking about the Football Fan Festival, held in conjunction with the World Cup at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, Al Ghufaili termed it as “a great example”. “It was a truly world-class event but, unlike most others in the region, was designed from the ground up to be a family-focused event with games, contests, innovative digital experiences, shows, and a variety of F&B offerings for people of all ages to enjoy. All 64 World Cup matches were streamed live on six large screens at the festival grounds. As a result, the festival saw over 92,000 fans visit from across the country, the region and beyond,” he said.

On how Omran hotels have done in the past few months, Al Ghufaili said: “Our group hotels have done well this year, with occupancy and revenues increasing by 18% and 71%, respectively, as of the end of Q3 this year, compared to 2021. To put this into perspective, July, August, and September mark the Khareef season in Dhofar and the #WithinOman campaign that was designed to promote domestic tourism during the summer season and vacations. As a result, our assets in the region witnessed an increase of 127% in occupancy and 146% in revenue for Q3 compared to Q2 of this year. Similarly, our assets in Muscat generally see a marked increase in occupancy and revenues in Q4 every year, given the cooler temperatures in the capital.”

However, Samir Messaoudi, General Manager at Sheraton Oman Hotel, differed on the occupancy during the FIFA World Cup. He said: “We didn’t see a huge difference in the occupancy in November due to the World Cup. There were few rooms that did go to World Cup bound travelers but nothing significant. However, we are witnessing good occupancy these days and hope that the New Year will be a good one for us and the hospitality industry in general.”

It may be mentioned that a recent report from the National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) said that revenues of 3 to 5 star hotels in the Sultanate of Oman reached more than OMR 161 million till the end of November 2022.

The statistics indicated that the total number of guests in hotels with a rating of 3 to 5 stars in the Sultanate of Oman reached by the end of November 2022, about 1,449,511.

Nabil Al Zadjali, General Manager Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel said: “Our business indicators and stats for November 2022 were driven by our international leisure market and no pick-up trends were spotted around the World Cup hype. There’s no doubt that the main highlight of 2022 in our region was the World Cup which has driven heavy footfall to Qatar along with an audience overflow across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) but Oman didn’t capture a noticeable share out of this. However, I consider that the international exposure generated for our region during the tournament will serve as a building block for 2023.”