Muscat: Sports tourism has a huge potential to grow in the country and generate tourism, revenue, and a healthier lifestyle, according to David Graham, chief executive officer of Oman Sail.
“Tanfeedh and the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) have a very in-depth strategy and their main targets are special interest groups or the adventure and sports tourists, and sports tourism is on a huge upward curve. “So that is a market, which has seen growth and the country really lends itself to certain sports—sailing, running, cycling, mountain biking, triathlon—those kinds of sports can be practiced here,” he said.
Currently, the core sporting activities which are being focused on, are running, cycling, triathlon, sailing, trail running, mountain biking, equestrian, camel racing and fishing.
Although the country is only focusing on a few sporting activities for the moment, this is only because they want to narrow them down and grow big. “The scope (sports tourism) is huge and that’s why we are just focusing on so few sports right now, it’s not exclusive to those sports, but we are doing that so we can shortlist and focus on them.”
“We were asked to go to Tanfeedh, and I was working on an initiative on how sports events can benefit the country, and since then I am leading the initiative to implement what we discussed in the labs; for example, the Muscat Marathon was a Tanfeedh initiative, it was managed through a partnership among Muscat Road Runners, Oman Sail and Tanfeedh, because we don’t have the technicalities of running, but they do, so they bring in that and we bring to that party the branding, marketing, logistics and event management, financing and accounting. We got 1,350 runners this year, and plan to double that up for next year.”
According to Graham, in a few years time the Muscat Marathon will be on top, with some of the best marathons in the region and beyond.
“If you take that race as an example, we are looking at some of the biggest marathons in the world—Boston, New York, London, Paris—and looking at what they do and what are their best practices, so Oman Sail and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) have seen the Geneva Marathon. ROP has just worked with the police in Switzerland, so they are looking at what are their best practices.”
He further said the purpose is to get more people into the country, and for them to stay longer and spend more money in the county, and for more Omanis to be employed, “that is our overall objective, we have got other objectives too, it’s very important for the youth in the society to be active, and in today’s age, across the world children are having a more of sedentary lifestyle with iPads, phones, they have got this virtual world where you don’t have to get off the couch.”
“So it’s a fringe benefit, but it’s a core objective of Oman Sail that we are getting Omanis more active. If we get 3,500 people running in that marathon, 50 per cent of those will be inbound, and you don’t just come in and leave, but come in for a week or a fortnight, get used to the place, run the marathon and take some time afterwards, so that’s a big plus, in terms of the economic impact.”
“If these people then go back to their countries after having a good time then you have basically got a cost effective way of promoting the country as a tourist destination to the right target group and shouldn’t cost you anything; as I said the aim is to be cost neutral.”
With the Tour of Oman being held in the country for the last few years, cycling will become a major focus in the future. “Over the last six years, the country has enjoyed having the Tour of Oman and it’s got global media reach and the country is probably the best place in the Middle East to cycle, so it’s got mountains, it’s politically stable, it’s safe with good roads, good weather, so we have got all pros coming in. So they are going through beautiful areas, and when you are taking pictures of the Peloton passing through the Corniche, you are promoting the country while pushing the sports.”
Future Cycling Events
Graham further said that if Oman has all the right things in cycling, then the country can even develop a proper Cyclotourism strategy. “If Oman is actually that good to go cycling, then we should have an overarching Cyclotourism strategy. One of the things that we are focusing on in Tanfeedh is to have local and regional cycling events and then making sure that the country is geared up for cycling tourism in time.”
Oman Sail is also working on some triathlons. “We are working on some triathlons between November and February; they will start with being local and regional, and we will grow at least one of them into international events. We mirror the target countries of MoT and Oman Air, so England, Italy, France, Germany, China and India, and we will start promoting the events in those markets.”