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Mon 5 Dec 2011 07:45 AM

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Oman sees silver lining in Arab Spring upheaval

Quiet Gulf sultanate sees record visitors as travel hotspots Egypt, Syria lose out

Oman sees silver lining in Arab Spring upheaval
Omani men browse a souk in central Muscat

A record number of visitors flocked to Oman during the first
two months of the holiday season as political tumult in the wider region sent
tourists to the usually quiet Gulf Arab sultanate, tourism operators say.

Figures from the ministry of tourism show Oman received
220,000 tourists in October and November this year, up 50 percent compared with
the same period in 2010.

"Political unrest in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and even
Yemen has become a boon to Oman. Tourists who would normally go to Tunisia and
are still unsure about situation there. They now find Oman a safer place
to spend a quiet holiday," said Khalaf al-Jadidi, owner of Desert Dunes
which organises overnight camps in remote areas.

As temperatures plunge in Europe, more tourists in search of
warmer weather over Christmas and New Year breaks are expected to arrive in the
non-OPEC oil exporter, hotel officials say.

A report from the tourism ministry forecast a rise of 35
percent in the number of visitors to the country in 2012. Oman hosted 1.12
million tourists between January and November this year.

"We operate at the moment full house and we will
continue to do so in the next three months or so in the same way. It is an
unprecedented tourist visitation this season which I can only link to the Arab
Spring phenomenon," said Talal Al Araimi, sales assistant manager at the
Muscat Intercontinental Hotel.

Popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa
this year have toppled veteran rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and forced
Yemen's president to sign away his powers.

Syria is grappling with an eight month-old anti-government
protest movement and Bahrain is still dealing with the fallout from a crackdown
on pro-democracy demonstrations in March.

Unrest also reached Oman earlier this year, when hundreds of
Omanis took to the streets
demanding more jobs, higher pay and an end to graft
by government officials, but the scale of the protests and the scope of their
demands were much lower than in other Arab countries.

"We should be thankful that Oman's five month protests
did not damage its reputation as a major tourist destination of the Gulf
country. Visitors consider Oman as the safest Arab country to visit and we are
benefitting in a big way at the moment," Jadidi said.

Two people were killed in February when security forces in
the industrial city of Sohar dispersed a stone-throwing crowd of protesters.
Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, promised reform and handouts to calm the

Oman has numerous oases and villages as well as a 1,700 km
long coastline with white sandy beaches that attract tourists from Europe and
the United States.

"The bookings we've received for the next three months
are overwhelming and we pass the tourists to rival companies to share the
burden. Most of them go to the deserts and picturesque villages. Beach areas
are in high demand as well," said Said Khalfan, a tour specialist who runs
a holiday website.

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