Muscat: OMR60 million has been set aside for tourism projects over the next three years, according to Oman’s Minister of Tourism.
Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad Al Mehrzi told Times of Oman that the funds were released to diversify Oman’s economy as part of Vision 2040, the government drive to rid Oman of its dependency on oil revenue.
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The news has been welcomed by chamber of commerce members and hoteliers across Oman.
“We were supposed to receive the money last year, but as you know, the economic crisis prevented that from happening,” said Al Mehrzi. “This year, however, we have reached an agreement with the international parties and the ministry of finance has given us the funds we need.
“We have 15 projects for tourism planned, and this year alone, we have OMR16 million for our programmes, with a total of OMR60 million allocated to us until 2020,” he added.
Al Mehrzi emphasised that the Sultanate’s ability to transform itself into a tourism hotspot centred on the differences between Oman and the other Arab nations.
“If you look at Oman, it is very different from the rest of the countries in the GCC,” he said, speaking exclusively to Times of Oman. “We have a lot of natural beauty and heritage and culture that the countries around us don’t have, for example.
“We want to increase our hotel capacity to 25,000 rooms in the future, and for us, it’s not just about the quantity of tourists, but the quality as well, because that is more important,” added Al Mehrzi.
The minister was speaking at the launch of the new Al Loomie restaurant, which is located in the grounds of the Al Bustan Palace.
“Restaurants like this are part of Oman’s plans to expand and diversify our economy and we are sure this will work well for everyone in the future,” he said. “This will also work well with our Tanfeedh plans for economic diversification.
“Oman’s youth are young, energetic and enthusiastic and we want to give them all the opportunities we can for them to fulfil their immense potential,” he added.
Ahmed Al Hooti, from Oman’s Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the news. “This will be a real implementation of the Tanfeedh plan, and thus the words turned into actions.”
Of course, new investments will contribute to diversifying tourism activities that the country needs. Prior to that, the Ministry of Tourism stated last year that there are a number of permits and licenses that have been granted to the private sector to work on a large number of projects. This year, the ministry may also issue new permits for projects in Muscat and outside Muscat. It is important that these projects receive continuous support, and progress without delay.
“With the inauguration of the new airport, we are counting on the increased capacity to accommodate a range of tourism activities in Oman. Today family tourism needs a range of projects serving the sector. Oman’s nightlife is still weak and while tourists may find plenty of activities during the day, there is still a lack of services available to tourists in the evening, whether locals or foreigners.
“I think the Ministry needs to determine for the private sector what type of projects are required, what places, permits and what land. It’s not a matter of money. The problem and the biggest obstacle is the land, and the lack of sufficient land for projects. We hope that there will be coordination among the owners of land, whether it be a citizen or government owned, and the Ministry of Tourism, to grant it to investors, and thus improve on tourism existing today.
“The Ministry of Tourism should also study at this time the problem with the current utilization of hotel rooms in the Sultanate. Because in some provinces the percentage is still weak, and does not exceed 50 per cent of the occupancy. This, of course, discourages investors, unless there is an increase in the number of tourists to the country.
“As much as 60 million is a good figure, what is lacking is not the investment itself, as much as the rest of the issues that contribute to the quality of the projects, such as the shortfall in the country’s tourism traffic, improving nightlife activities, and providing a range of options for the tourist that are within reach. I hope that today the Ministry would also focus on and prepare the appropriate land spaces for investment and projects. I think these obstacles are bigger than the financial aspect, which can be provided by the government and investors.”
Vijay Handa, general manager at Masirah Island Resort and the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, said: “More hotels and more tourist designated areas are required to contribute to the growing tourism in Oman.”
According to the recently released handbook, Tanfeedh has ratified an investment of nearly OMR2 billion until 2020 for developing the tourism sector in Oman, the majority of which will stem from private sector coffers. The minister of Tourism recently told Times of Oman that more than 6,000 rooms will be added by 2020 and the funding for most projects has been secured.
The Vision 2040 programme expects $19 billion in revenue from the tourism sector as Oman is expected to welcome over 11 million international and domestic tourists.
Mr. Nuno Neves, Cluster General Manager at Park Inn Muscat and Duqm, said: “The Minister’s ideas are very positive. For sure one can see that there is a strategy set, and all we need is patience.
We should not elude the investors about more hotels, meaning more easy profit. On the contrary, we should have in our minds that these new hotels under the current regional socio-economic conditions must be phased with mutual understanding of growing slowly, meaning having small profit and with time reaching high margins.
At the same time, the government should work on easing the administrative paperwork of tourists visiting the country.
I have faith in the professional direction national tourism is heading, and with all key players committed we can speak in one loud voice: Oman is welcoming you, Oman is a country one will never forget.”