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Wed 8 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Oman: The incentive Sultanate

Oman, cited by many as the Middle East's incentive destination of choice, isn't lacking in meetings space as more business-orientated hotels come online.

Oman, cited by many as the Middle East's incentive destination of choice, isn't lacking in meetings space as more business-orientated hotels come online.

And while it has embraced modernisation by building luxury hotels and shopping malls, Omans' ruler, Sultan Qubbos, is a known opponent of "visual pollution" and Oman has reaped the benefits, maintaining its sense of unspoiled beauty.

With a coastline of 1700 kilometres, Oman offers some of the cleanest, most stunning beaches a visitor could hope to visit.

With the proper infrastructure securely established, a wide range of international hotels and a huge quantity of things to see and do, Oman received more than one million tourists last year alone.

Combined with good conference facilities at Muscat's hotels and municipal buildings, the meetings industry is developing in leaps and bounds.

According to Euromonitor International, a global market research company, in 2006, the meetings industry accounted for 32% of total international business arrivals, showing the extent of the potential in the category.

And companies haven't been idle in realising the potential of the meetings industry.

According to F&B admin manager for Radisson SAS Hotel, Muscat, Joamon Vadakel, Oman is more than ready to offer a complete meetings and incentive solution.

"In a few years time I don't think we will have any problems in getting business. All the companies are bringing meetings facilities," Vadakel says.

"The market is expanding really quickly and companies are finding Oman is a good place for them."

Added to this are the number of specialised services looking to cater to the meetings industry.

"Over the last two years a lot of training companies have been appearing in Muscat," Vadakel says.

Currently meetings rooms are full due to many of the hotels conducting renovations, but these are gradually coming back on stream. And with new hotels slated for 2009, Oman is left neatly near the top of any planner's wish list.

When nature calls

Oman boasts a coastline of more than 1700 kilometres and with it comes a wealth of marine life.

Dolphin watching is available through sightseeing boat tours, but those looking to get a closer view can take advantage of one of Oman's diving schools.

The variety of sea life is considered by many divers to be richer than that found in the Red Sea, with turtles, rays, morays and leopard shark aplenty.

Oman's waters also boasts more than 350 varieties of coral and the warm temperatures - similar to those found in the Caribbean and Maldives - make for comfortable diving.

Located at the headland of the Arabian Peninsula, the Ras al-Hadd Nature Reserve houses one of the largest nesting areas of the Green Turtle in the Indian Ocean.

Within that reserve is the Ras Al-Jinz Scientific and Visitor Centre, arguably offering visitors Oman's richest eco-tourism experience, managed by EI-EMC International; a company specialising in sustainable tourism development.

King of the castle

Where others have sought to build, Oman has made a concerted effort to preserve, the dividends of which are witnessed in the abundance of heritage sites including forts and castles.More than 100 forts and castles have been painstakingly restored after the government set about the conservation challenge in 1976.

For anyone who enjoys history or culture a tour of one of these castles that can scale six stories, is a must.

Roughly a one-and-a-half hour drive from Muscat is the striking Nizwa fort with an equally impressive castle next door.

The most striking feature of the ramparts is the central tower, soaring 35 metres above the rest of the fortification, which affords stunning views of Nizwa and the surrounding areas.

Most forts are either free or relatively inexpensive to enter.

The Oman Ministry has been running courses in English and giving lectures to Omani guides and staff. Action and adventure

For those employees who like a bit of action and adventure mixed into their meeting experience Oman doesn't disappoint.

Not only does the Sultanate boast the second largest cave in the world, Majlis al-Jihn, its mountainous terrain and host of adventure-based companies means even the most active hearts will be contented.

It is worth keeping in mind that the mountains also provide a retreat from the sweltering heat of the desert, with temperatures rarely rising to 30 degrees Celsius.

Whether it's racing through wadis in 4x4s or trekking through the canyons of Jebal Shams, Oman certainly provides breakout sessions and incentives with a pulse.

Activities:Wadi bashing (driving 4x4 vehicles through dried riverbeds); caving; mountain-climbing; scuba-diving; paragliding; mountain trekking. Relax - just do it

The spa has become an essential component of most five-star hotels as business travellers increasingly look for a wellbeing element to their meeting, conference or incentive trip.

With a host of luxury hotels boasting top-class facilities, Oman is perfectly placed to cater to this demand.

Five-star The Chedi, Muscat provides a perfect retreat for clients seeking refined luxury. The Chedi Spa offers a comprehensive range of treatments and massages with body elixir and bathing rituals recommended.

Other spa options include the recently opened Evason Hideaway at Zighy Bay in Oman, managed by Six Senses, a holistic oasis nestled into the Zighy Bay mountainside in the Musandam Peninsula.

The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat provides a spa experience with a subtle difference. The property comprises three separate hotels - the Al Waha for families, the Al Bandar for business guests and the Al Husn for top-end guests - so is perfectly placed to accommodate breaks combining business and pleasure.

The five-star Al Nahda Resort and Spa, a health and wellness resort in Barka, roughly a one-hour drive from Muscat (towards Sohar in the north) provides the ultimate retreat for clients seeking a complete break from the usual day-to-day bustle.

Nestled amongst 30 acres of gardens, Al Nahda boasts 108 luxury appointed rooms set uniquely between a clusters of mango trees.

Contacts:Evason Hideaway at Zighy Bay: www.sixsenses.com, Al Nahda Resort and Spa, Barka: www.alnahdaresort.com, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa: www.shangri-la.com/en/property/muscat/barraljissahresort, The Chedi, Muscat: www.ghmhotels.com

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