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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Essential Oman training

Oman Tourism and partners hit the road on a whirlwind tour of the GCC to show agents what Oman has to offer this summer.

As the summer season approaches, hundreds of thousands of GCC nationals are preparing to head to the green hills and valleys of Salalah in the south of Oman, the only area of the GCC where people can escape the desert heat in the summer and experience rain.

For some, the journey is an annual voyage. According to Oman Tourism, around 300,000 visitors descended on Salalah during last year's Al Khareef season, which tends to last from July to September, but now the Omani Government is urging visitors to explore some of the other treasures Oman has to offer.

A small delegation of travel professionals led by Oman Tourism set off on a five-day tour around the GCC last month to meet with travel agents in five local markets.

The tour called in at Riyadh, Dammam, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar before finishing with a visit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE.

The goal of the road show was to educate agents as to what there is to do in Oman, so they could pass on the information to their clients and encourage them to explore more of the country.

Situated in the heart of the Dhofar region of Oman near its southern border with Yemen and 1000kms from Muscat, Salalah is "one of the most beautiful places you will see in the Khareef season," according to Mark Senior, director, Afkar Marketing Company, which represents Oman Tourism in the GCC.

"GCC travellers can combine Salalah with a break in the mountains or one of the other towns in Oman; often people can stop in one of the Jebels on the way down [to Salalah] and experience a twin centre holiday - probably with Dubai," he said.

"Now is a great time to go to Salalah, especially if you have clients that are looking at taking meetings or incentives groups down there, because the rates are very good up until the Khareef (end of the first week of July)."

He continued: "If your clients are busy businessmen whose families want something different, then talk to them about Salalah; it's a great place to go to relax and enjoy some archaeological sites and beautiful scenery.

"There is limited availability during Khareef, so it is advisable to book early. If you are planning to sell Salalah or if your customers are talking about visiting Oman during the [rainy] season they should book now."

For agents, Salalah is an easy sell during this period if they can convince their clients to book early (the high demand means that rooms fill up quickly), but Senior urged agents to think outside of the box and encourage visitors to explore more of the country.

The Khareef arrives in Oman in Sur, an ancient city that lies halfway down Oman's 1700km coastline, renowned for its long tradition of dhow building.

The town also makes a good base for trips into the desert and wadi bashing excursions where visitors can stop to bathe in the cool waters surrounded by greenery and stunning landscape.

To the south, Oman's beaches are home to nesting giant green turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs, which hatch over a 30-day period between July and August, when the temperature is only around 30 degrees.

One of Oman's newest attractions is currently closed to the public for restoration, but it is scheduled to reopen this summer.

The Al Hoota cave can be found at the foot of Jebel Shams, or Green Mountain as it is known by the locals, thanks to its year-round lush vegetation.

Within the cave, visitors can find underground lakes, stalagmites, stalactites and "hundreds of translucent fish", according to Senior.

"Nowhere else in the region can you see anything like it - it is quite unique," he said.

For customers interested in soft adventure that doesn't involve a 4WD vehicle, agents should recommend high-altitude trekking in the mountains, where the temperatures remain at around 28 degrees even at midday.

"The Oman Ministry of Tourism has put together some guides telling you where to go, what you will see and how long it will take you," Senior explained.

"From the top of the highest peaks you can see down into the Grand Canyon and on the clearest days you can see to the Arabian Sea. Tour operators putting together an itinerary for the interior of the country should recommend a night at the Golden Tulip hotel in Nizwa."

Most Oman-based tour operators and DMCs are offering two-for-one deals on excursions to any of the above attractions throughout the summer, while many of the hotels in Muscat are vying for customers with attractive offers and free tours or discounts.

The cast

Al Bustan Palace InterContinental Muscat:

a 200-room Muscat landmark set against the backdrop of mountains, gardens and its own private beach.

Bahwan Tours:

a Muscat-based inbound operator, which offers "dream holidays and incentives programmes" according to general manager Shankar Bose.

Crowne Plaza Salalah:

a 153-room property set in 45-acres of tropical garden on a white sandy beach.

Golden Tulip Nizwa:

set in the middle of the rugged Hajar Mountains and only a one-hour drive from Seeb International Airport.

Hilton Salalah:

only 20 minutes from Salalah International Airport, the 147-room property sits on the beach front overlooking the Indian Ocean and the mountains.

InterContinental Muscat:

a 265-room five-star beachfront property in the main business district of Muscat set in 35-acres of landscaped gardens.

Oman Air:

Omani national carrier operates a comprehensive local and domestic flight network.

Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa:

the 680-room property comprises 47% of Muscat's five-star room inventory. The resort's three individual properties; Al Waha, Al Bandar and Al Husn cater to families, corporate and luxury visitors respectively.

Zahara Tours:

Oman's premier destination and leisure management company.

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