Old house shows way for home-stay tourism in Oman
April 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Muscat: Tucked in the picturesque mountain village of Misfat Al Abriyeen is Oman's only traditional guesthouse, a place which is an example of how old homes can be converted into sustainable, local tourism business. 

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Ahmed Mohammed Al Abri converted his family home into the Misfah Old House in 2009, and now the family-run business has become a hot destination for tourists who want an authentic Omani experience, not just another hotel room.

The house, which is estimated to be 500 to 700 years old, like the other old homes in the village, has been in the family for 150 years. Rather than abandon it when they moved to more modern home, the family lets guests experience life in the village, sleeping in the old rooms, wandering through the farms, and eating locally-made Omani food.

"We are selling Misfat as a destination to the guests. They can taste Omani meals and be with Omani friends. They can know about the irrigation system and of course they can enjoy walking in the gardens and see people working the farm. They can live an Omani life from one morning to the next morning," explained Ahmed's nephew Yaqoob Bader Al Abri, who is in-charge of marketing and advertising for the guesthouse.

When the Al Abri family started the 12-room guesthouse there were no Ministry of Tourism regulations for such a place, but they got permission to go ahead with the business anyway. They decided to take a traditional approach that would also be acceptable to the locals.  

The guests are warned in advance about how to dress, where to park, and how to interact respectfully with the villagers, such as refraining from taking photos of women. There are also restrictions on alcohol and smoking.

Villagers are also involved with the business by working as guides for hikes, preparing the food, and providing transportation. "We aim for the village to benefit as much as possible from this project. We decided that we would share everything we can with the village. We try to involve as much people as we possibly can," said Naif Nasser Al Abri, who manages the day to day business.

Naif and Yaqoob are both passionate about providing a very local, authentic experience for their guests but not at the expense of the village. They say there is a lot of potential for other businesses like theirs around Oman, but they recommend small-scale developments that honour the local heritage and traditions and engage the community.

"Try to stay very local, and try to manage the place with Omani people who are from the same place because the tourists are very interested in knowing about the places they are in," explained Naif.

Their business model has proven to be very successful, as they are usually fully booked from October to April. During the peak season, in December and January, their occupancy is about 95%.

Yaqoob added that guesthouses like theirs can also benefit the future of tourism in Oman because they provide more rooms for tourists and a different variety.

"They need more rooms and they can give more chances to the guests, if they want to stay in luxury hotels or bed and breakfasts or guesthouses, they have more opportunities for the tourists to come and choose what they want exactly, and at different prices," he noted.

Claire Careil, manager of Razan Travel in Muscat, said the Misfah Old House is ideal for people who aren't concerned with luxurious accommodations and modern amenities but prefer something more traditional.
She agreed that there is the potential in Oman for other guesthouses like the Misfah Old House, especially for tourists who like camping, hiking and more rustic approaches to travel. "I think there would be huge potential to have more village stays or local house stays. I think it would depend on the quality,

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