Tourism is the road to the Sultanate's future

Special to Times of Oman

We live in changing times, and the world is increasingly witnessing greater inter-dependence and connectivity in its evolution into a global village. In Oman too, we have felt the winds of change sweeping across the social, economic, and cultural domains. From being a predominantly oil-dependent economy, Oman has gradually changed course and increased its reliance on non-oil sectors over the past few years.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this shift has been the tourism sector that witnessed significant growth of 10 per cent in the year 2013.

But it is still early days yet. I believe the tourism sector is poised to peak given our country's untapped tourism potential and hidden treasures that can be harnessed to shape enriching travel experiences for visitors to the region.  

Our Tourism Minister Ahmed Bin Nasser Al Mehrzi stated a few months ago that the government is working on a new tourism strategy in collaboration with an external specialist agency. The Ministry of Tourism has also been working in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to increase the number of tourists to the Gulf region, particularly in the cruise and luxury tourism segment.

Such efforts to fuel growth have instilled a surge in confidence in the private sector as well. Oman has in recent months seen a steady stream of investments, such as the one announced by Saraya Bandar Jissah, the country's first integrated tourism complex. Also, Royal Caribbean International, a leading international cruise line, is set to bring its 'Splendour of the Seas' cruise liner to Oman and the UAE in 2015.

It is also interesting that Oman's varied archaeological sites are continuing to attract visitors in large numbers.

To me, the growth holds yet another interesting facet. I am inclined to think of the diverse pool of opportunities that are opening up for Omani professionals, students, and aspiring entrepreneurs. It is important to understand that the tourism industry offers a variety of vocational paths — in hotels, event management, tour operations, arts and crafts, information services, food and beverages to name just a few.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, over 70,000 jobs will be created in Oman's travel and tourism industry in the coming years. It is, therefore, inevitable we will see a sharp rise in demand for human resources with a diverse range of skill-sets to fill the new roles.

With tourism set to shape the resurgence of the GCC countries and play a huge role in the diversification of the region's economy, I urge the youth of this country to step up their association with this sector as it would eventually mean participating in the great success story of Oman.  

As a way forward, tourism education must be encouraged — we could create a forum for students where they can learn about the trade and the depth of its scope and potential from professionals in the industry.

The industry is also paving the road for a plethora of entrepreneurial opportunities — existing and aspiring business owners have the opportunity to cater to a growing audience and I encourage them to incorporate Omani values, tradition and culture into their work ethos. This will help travellers to experience the essence of Oman and encourage them to visit our beautiful country again.

Owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the tourism industry can make use of the wealth of resources available in Oman. Over the past year, we have seen banks introduce special financing programmes, with the Muscat Securities Market supporting family businesses by encouraging them to go public to raise funds.

Our nation has always supported citizens in professional and entrepreneurial endeavours, and will continue to do so in the future. I invite our citizens to combine the great opportunities presented by our young tourism industry and their own intrinsic talents, skills and creativity to shape a win-win situation that benefits them personally and Oman as a nation as well.

With focus, concerted planning and hard work, I have no doubt that we will collectively help Oman's tourism industry take wing and soar to ever greater heights.

The author is the Vice Chairman of National Bank of Oman and an International Advisor to the Brookings Institution. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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