Salalah will be Oman's Sharm El Sheikh: Tourism chiefs
January 27, 2018 | 10:30 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan/[email protected]
Sharm-El-Sheikh, a resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea coastline.

Salalah: Unleashing Salalah’s untapped tourism potential could make the city Oman’s version of Sharm El Sheikh, according to Oman’s top tourism developers.

Sharm El Sheikh, which rose to fame as a resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea coastline, is visited by tourists the world over.

It aimed to attract between seven and 10 million visitors last year, after bringing in about 10 million tourists in 2015, as well.

And now, Muriya, a joint venture between Omran, the Sultanate’s government tourism investment arm, and Egyptian leisure company Orascom, believes Salalah will rival the Sinai resort town in the years to come. “Sustainable development and tourism is good for the Dhofar governorate,” said Ahmed Dabbous, chief executive officer at Muriya. “There are some who say that there will not be many who will come to an area as remote as Salalah, but you look at what we have here and you will see that investors will want to come and invest here. We want Salalah to become the next Sharm El Sheikh, which at one point was nothing, but is now one of the premier tourist destinations in the world.”

Some US$650 million have already been invested in Oman by both Orascom and Omran, with two of the five Integrated Tourism Complexes (ITC) in the Sultanate located in Dhofar.

The Hawana Salalah project, on the outskirts of the Dhofari capital, is now a thriving tourism destination, complete with three resorts and Salalah’s first water park.

While Al Fanar caters primarily to families, Juweira features boutique apartments that offer guests privacy and luxury in equal measure. In addition, Hawana Salalah is also home to the Rotana resort, which opened four years ago and has been growing ever since.

Phase One of Hawana Salalah’s water park was built at a cost of OMR5 million, and was inaugurated by Ahmed bin Nasser Al Meherzi, Oman’s Minister of Tourism, and Mohammed Bin Sultan Al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, on January 10.

Freehold properties – aimed at both residents and visitors looking for a holiday home – are also to be made available, with the upscale lagoons neighbourhood overlooking Salalah’s turquoise blue waters on one side, and the verdant landscape the region witnesses during the Khareef season on the other.

The Dhofar governorate’s second ITC has been planned for the historic town of Mirbat, which is just an hour’s drive from Salalah.

This world-class, high-end development will be situated on the Mirbat waterfront, and will feature a mix of residential and entertainment facilities, including a marina capable of docking up to 75 watercraft, a five-star hotel that offers 534 furnished apartments and 300 rooms, a golf course, and as many as 1,500 apartments and villas, to be rolled out in five phases.

It will be managed by the Dhofar Tourism Company, an organisation listed on the Muscat Securities Market.

In addition, Omran will be overseeing the construction of the Alila hotel group’s second resort in Oman, which is to be based in Mirbat, with Shaza hotels also currently developing a property in Salalah.

All this will only add to Salalah’s current offerings, which are much loved by visitors who come to Oman to explore the Sultanate’s rich tradition and culture.

Frankincense trade

Salalah was once the beating heart of the global frankincense trade, with the famed resin being shipped as far as ancient Rome and China.

The former trade centre of Al Baleed, together with other frankincense sites such as Samharam, Khor Rori and Wadi Dawka, are now listed as UNESCO heritage sites, one of four in the nation.

With a reported 98 per cent hotel occupancy rate across Oman’s tourism offerings, Omran is also committed to expanding their current facilities to welcome more visitors to these destinations.

“We have invested $300 million in Oman and this is our second largest presence in the world, after Switzerland,” noted Samih Sawiris, chairman for Orascom Development Holding. “We did not take this land to just sell it on to someone else or to sleep on it. We will continue to add 100 to 200 rooms all the time and will continue to develop Salalah until we have fulfilled our mandate,” he added.

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