Muscat: Oman’s tourism investment arm, Omran, has completed various strategic acquisitions by taking over or receiving shareholdings in 8 firms to drive forward tourism development and investment in the Sultanate.
In pictures: A new era begins in Oman's tourism
It has also spent the last six months meeting around 40 investors for its projects, including Mina Sultan Qaboos and Madinat Irfan.
Omran Chief Executive Officer James Wilson, in an exclusive interview at Al Mouj, with the Times of Oman, has also revealed that the flagship Sultan Qaboos port redevelopment is moving rapidly to construction start with a number of investors and that currently Omran has at least OMR300 million worth of tourism projects “under construction” across Oman.
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Eight new companies now form part of Omran’s assets, the government’s tourism and investment arm, as part of a strategic master plan to put Oman - and Omanis - on the global tourism map. These include Marina Bander Rhowda.
The group has just taken a 40 per cent stake in the Al Mouj development, known as The Wave, effectively taking over the government’s stake, according to Wilson.
The group has also taken over Oman’s Tourism College in an effort to train Omanis to work in the 11 hotels it now runs – including the Crowne Plaza in Salalah – and wants to run a real hotel as part of the “hotel school” where students work in real time alongside senior hotel staff.
The board of Omran has also taken Oman Sail under its wing and will drive forward programmes to bring adventure and marine holiday packages to the Sultanate.
They have also taken major stakes in two other listed companies and Wilson revealed that the country’s new meetings, incentives conference project the Oman Convention Exhibition Centre (OCEC) at Madinat Irfan will take over business from the existing OIEC located next to the Golden Tulip, which will gradually be phased out.
“It’s an exciting time for Oman. Last year the government set out a strategic programme to drive Oman tourism investment and we are acting to achieve that directive. We have taken a 40 per cent stake in The Wave. We have taken the 40 per cent shareholding that was held by the Ministry of Finance.
“That in itself is a pretty big deal, but put together with the six companies we have taken control of and the efforts to put Omanis in the driving seat so that they themselves can shape the future of their country, it’s a very positive time.”
Wilson, a Scot who has worked to bring to reality some of the most prestigious tourism developments in the world, including the Dubai Palm, also revealed that currently in the Sultanate there are ongoing construction works amounting to some OMR300 million.
Omran’s Anantara Salalah Baleed is due to open in a couple of weeks and this is targeted at the premium end of the market and is being developed as a joint venture with a local partner.
“We have 1,100 hotel rooms coming to market and we need around 1,200 staff to work in the hotels we will have an interest in,” he added.
“We want them to be serving tourists to a globally high standard, hence our taking ownership of the tourism college. Our senior managers will be going there to talk to classes about real-life in the hospitality industry and give lectures. Omani children and parents need to realise that the hotel & tourism industry offers jobs in reception, concierge, sales & marketing, IT, Tour Guides, security, transport, housekeeping and I have noted that a few Omani chefs are now appearing in restaurants and hotels. It’s a great industry to join as with the hotel companies one gets to opportunity to travel and work in different countries & cities.”
“Young Omanis needs to know that hotel work is not just about cleaning rooms. There’s so much more than that and you can find yourself anywhere in the world. Our job is to train the generation that will serve visitors and drive the Oman economy onwards and upwards. They need to be industry ready.”
“The government has made it clear that we should be training Omanis to work in Oman. Omran head office is 82 per cent Omani now. Some big hotels in the city run at around 50 per cent, which is good and the hotels we now own currently have around 30 per cent Omanis. We hope to have around 45 per cent in any new hotel.”
“We can improve on that. Why did we have our Heritage entity run by expats refurbishing &running our tourist sites? That’s like me telling the trustees of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland that I want to hire an Omani to run Edinburgh Castle.”
“I have been changing that and giving Omanis the key positions. I am a great believer in putting employees in at the deep end but then helping them to “swim”. Since joining Omran I have been continually impressed by the quality and commitment of Omanis to their work. They already possess experience and the knowledge, they just need the opportunity. Expats are also key to bring the knowledge and experience that the country requires.
“Omran drives the investment, growth and development of the rapidly growing tourism sector in the Sultanate of Oman and describes its role as the master developer of major tourism, heritage and urban developments, with the aim of delivering some of the nation’s most iconic projects.
“Oman needs more quality beach hotels & resorts like the Chedi, we have a long coastlineand we have strong interest from investors to partner with Omran or acquire opportunities from Omran in its master planned developments. Oman has an all year round climate with spectacular beaches in Salalah & Masira Island and I have no doubt we can attract quality tourism in increasing numbers and at the right rates,” said Salah Al Ghazali Chief Investment Officer of Omran.
Spread along a stunning six kilometre stretch of coastline, Al Mouj Muscat, which translates from Arabic as The Wave, offers outstanding lifestyle and leisure experiences in the heart of new Muscat, Oman. The premium community comprises of residential properties interspersed with green spaces, pedestrian walkways and inland waterways, exciting retail and dining facilities, a 400-berth marina, and Oman’s only signature PGA Standard 18 hole links golf course, designed by Greg Norman.
The world-class community is also home to a number of luxurious hotels managed by internationally renowned hospitality brands. And with 120 retail stores and beautifully landscaped public spaces, Al Mouj Muscat not only meets the recreational needs of the community, but also provides a leading destination for visitors.
Omran has also concluded the final evaluation process to find the Omani small businesses that will be qualified to operate at the new Souq Al Mina at the heart of Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront development, one Oman’s most ambitious infrastructure projects and is in the process of finalising the construction and fit out.
Wilson said the new all year round, air-conditioned artisans hall will greet visitors from the 150 cruise ships expected to visit the port this year alone.
He said: “The comments we get from people when they return to the ships, via questionnaires the cruise ship operators give out after each port, all say the same thing, Omanis are so friendly and that they felt very safe. Those are the two things that set Oman apart from its neighbours and the reasons people come. Oman is authentic, now we need to ensure we have the right products to sell to these tourists and that the overall experience at Muttrah and the Waterfront are to a good standard.”
On completion the waterfront will be one of the region’s leading tourism destinations and a key proponent of Oman and Muttrah’s rich culture and heritage.
Wilson added: “The waterfront project is close to being fully funded and very exciting. The Omran Board of Directors gave us a very clear directive this year, “get it open for World Expo in 2020” when an additional 25m tourists are expected into the region, all these things are starting to come together and we are on a fast track.”
Wilson says he will leave Oman in three years, by which time he will have overseen the completion of a number of projects, all aimed at putting Oman on the premium tourism map.
“This is probably my last job. After this I travel. I wouldn’t call it my legacy, but I do want to make sure my last job is the best job. I’m here for Oman, to make Oman a better place and to help Omanis make the most of a wonderful and authentic country. I hope to leave behind a number of new Omani CEOs, Directors& General Managers.”