For years, the sleepy sultanate of Oman has been viewed as something of a secret tourism destination. Whether visitors have watched turtles hatching on the beaches at Ras Al Hadd, or explored the once-lost city of Ubar in the midst of the Empty Quarter, it’s immediately clear that the country does not suffer the difficulties associated with mass tourism in other parts of the world.
Now, it seems, Oman is really pushing to get the word out over its abundant natural beauty. The good news is that the sultanate appears to be on a particularly hot streak.
Not only did the Arab Tourism Ministers’ Council declare Oman as the Arab Tourism Capital for 2012, but the country was also ranked among the 20 top destinations in the world in the latest edition of the National Geographic magazine — the only Arab country to figure in the list.
In addition, Oman’s capital, Muscat, has been ranked the second-best city in the world to visit in 2012 by Lonely Planet, the popular travel guide publisher. Second only to London, the capital beat tourism hotspots including Cadiz, Spain; Bangalore, India; Stockholm, Sweden; and Orlando, USA.
With all the recognition the country has been attracting, pressure has been mounting on Oman to strengthen its preparations for tourism-related events and developments for the year — so the question remains, what will the sultanate do to secure its spot?
“These recent recognitions affirm the strong global interest in Muscat and Oman in general as a leisure, lifestyle and business destination,” says Haitham Mohammed Ghasani, director of tourism promotion at Oman’s Ministry of Tourism. “We expect 2012 to be a turning point in our effort to take the performance of our tourism sector to the next level.”
Oman’s homework has been done and it has drawn up ambitious tourism plans. Despite anti-government protests that have swept through the Middle East this past year, and the impact they have had on tourism and investor confidence in the region, 2012 looks like being a year of recovery.
Studying 30 locations around the country for their potential to be developed into tourism resorts and attractions, the sultanate is setting sights on attracting 12 million visitors a year by the end of the decade.
Such locations include the Al Hoota, Majlis Al Jinn (meeting place of the jinns) and Suhoor cave complexes, says Ghasani. It’s a little-known fact, but Oman boasts some of the largest and most extensive cave chambers anywhere in the world.
Plans are also in the pipeline for the construction of an archaeological park and a museum at the recently discovered Friday Mosque in Qalhat (near Sur), which was built around 1300 AD.
Article continued on next page