Muscat: Muscat is famous for its quiet sea and beautiful golden beaches.The best of these beaches are in the small villages surrounding Muscat, including Al Jissah, Al Khairan, Al Sifah and Yeti.
They are characterised by their quiet and breathtaking atmosphere that attracts tourists from within and outside the Sultanate for camping, recreation and diving, which has encouraged many young Omanis to set up private tour companies to promote marine tourism.
Among those companies is the Najmat Al Bahr (Sea Star) Company for marine tourism. It is classified as a small business, and was established in 2011, as a project in the field of marine tourism. An ambitious dream turned into reality at the hands of its owner Said bin Habib Al Rahbi from Yeti in the Governorate of Muscat.
The Sea Star Company is a tour operator for attendees of the sea. It owns a traditional wooden ship, 40-foot tour boat, tourist camp in the Al Khairan Island and five staff members, including the owner and four of his family members, who work as captains, in addition to undertaking the management, financial and marketing tasks of the company.
The company is steadily progressing and successfully marketing and attracting more tourists in a world that is not without significant challenges, such as competition, seasonal customers and the complexities of procedures, as well as the high cost allocated to ships’ berths.
Said Al Rahbi told the Oman News Agency (ONA) that the idea of setting up a tourist company was in his mind for a period of time, after his retirement from the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO).
He joined as a captain in several tourist companies where he came very close to the field of tourism. After a thorough study, he gathered the courage to establish a marine tourism company despite weak liquidity. However, with the concerted efforts of the family, he bought a ship, followed by a boat.
He added that his ambition is still strong in the field of marine tourism, even though he is still at the beginning of the road. He said the company benefited in 2015 from the Al Rafd Fund, which offered him financial support as an asset for the new-born company against any obstacles in the future that are repayable in instalments.
He explained that the Sea Star Company operates various cruises, including morning dolphin-seeing, and swimming, lunch and fishing, birthdays and afternoon tours for sunset seeing, boarding, dinners, customised tours and many others.
Al Rahbi said these tours vary depending on the time of the year, and are active in the winter due to warm weather and decrease in the summer because of high temperature and humidity.
He added that the tours also vary in terms of duration as tourist groups are limited to two hours up to one full day, depending on the tour type, its timing or number of tourists. He said the tours vary in terms of duration and timing of the tour, adding that the tours are accompanied by a bouquet of services and entertainment events, such as lunch, dinner, paddle and rubber boats, swimming, beach volleyball, handball, and football, cultural events, barbecues and other events that are usually associated with these tours.
October and April of each year is the peak period for marine tourism in the Sultanate.
Omanis constitute nearly 60 per cent of the customers and the remaining are expatriates, mainly Europeans, mostly Germans and French. Dolphin-seeing and swimming tours have no specific route as it is decided according to the presence of the dolphins, but they are usually deep in the sea of Oman and the Arabian Sea, such as Al Sifah, Al Fahal and Quriyat.
The challenges faced by many tour companies include poor financial liquidity, especially for projects that require financial liquidity of up to hundreds of thousands of riyals and the high cost of berths, which is a problem experienced by all ships and boats owners, but it has been reduced to half for those licensed to carry out tourist activities.
The seasonal work is a challenge experienced by all workers in marine tourism because of the weather conditions in the country. Marine tourism is active during the winter and weakens during the summer.
As a solution for this challenge, companies offer discounts and special offers on prices, slashing them by half and sometimes up to 60 per cent during the summer in order to continue the work, instead of stopping it altogether. Sometimes, they count on the domestic market made up of Omanis and other communities.