Muscat: With eyes fixed on quality tourism, Oman plans to reach out to a wider range of tourists by diversifying the industry through developing the necessary infrastructure and services, says a senior official at the government's executive arm dealing with the domain.
"We need to diversify our tourism market and cater to the interests of a wider range of tourists by putting the necessary infrastructure in place… Mid-range and budget accommodation facilities can complement luxury ones and add value to the tourism industry. Actually, there are plans ahead to meet this end," Abdul Wahid Al Farsi, VP for external affairs at Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran), told the Times of Oman. Following is the transcript of the interview:
Oman has been cultivating a reputation for high-end, selective tourism rather than package tours. In your opinion, what are the advantages of focusing on luxury tourism?
The main advantage would be to maintain quality tourism for the selected group of tourists. Usually, tourists who come for high-end tourism, tend to spend much more than package tourists.
Hence, it would be more advantageous to target quality tourism than mass tourism.
Do you think promoting high-end tourism is the country's long-term strategy or will there be a shift of focus in the coming years?
I think there will be a shift of focus in the next couple of years to target other types of tourism like adventure, heritage, and sports amongst others.
When Omran started its activities, the focus was mainly on high-end tourism, but I think this trend will not continue for a long time as we need to diversify our tourism market and cater to the interests of a wider range of tourists by putting the necessary infrastructure in place.
Mid-range and budget accommodation facilities can complement luxury ones and add value to the tourism industry. Actually, there are plans ahead to meet this end. The need for such infrastructure is felt not only in the capital but also in remote areas, where there is great potential for attracting tourists, given the numerous attractions in different parts of Oman.
Real estate consultancy Cluttons recently commented that although there is a need for more luxury rooms in Oman, there is also a high risk of oversupply in this segment. It says that there is a significant opportunity for mid-range hotels to expand in the country. What's your view?
I would agree with their comment and I think there should be a mix of luxury and budget hotels to cater to other segments of tourists like the youth and local tourists, especially those with families. This would also encourage domestic tourism. For now, we have enough number of luxury hotel rooms which can meet the demand currently and in the near-future.
Do you think that a focus on high-end tourism will create more jobs and development opportunities in the long run compared to a less luxury tourism?
I would say yes to some extent, but the demand will be less for high-end tourism since it is costly to run, and hence will create less number of job opportunities in the long run when compared to other types of tourism. Generally speaking, luxury hotels create more jobs as you have to put more services in place compared to the lower-end accommodations which require less number of staff. But on the other hand, you can have more number of mid-range hotels, which can generate good job opportunities and good return with less investment.
Don't you think that the current trend is taking some opportunities from some smaller and less reputable companies who have the potential to run mid-range hotels and similar accommodation facilities in the country, especially considering the government's increased focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs)?
The mandate given to Omran by the government is to develop major tourism projects in the Sultanate and put the required infrastructure in place. This has been the case in the recent years, and we have been successful in delivering major tourism projects with high expectations.
We would like to invite the private sector to play a key role by providing additional tourism facilities and services around our projects. These include mid-range hotels and attractions. And in the future, there will be many opportunities for smaller companies to come to the market and prove themselves.
Currently, most of the luxury hotels here are being run by international hotel operators. How do you see their presence in Oman's hotel and tourism industry in the future?
Although we would like to give opportunities to international brands, we would like to have our own local brands as well. That is exactly why we introduced 'Atana' brand and we will definitely build more facilities with this brand in the future. So we would see less focus on international brands and instead would get more local brands involved.
Some people argue that many high-end tourists spend much of their time at the hotel or near the beaches or in luxury malls and rarely visit the central areas of the city and traditional souqs. Thus they are not contributing directly to the business of smaller shops. What is your view in this regard?
I think most tourists plan their excursions in advance since they have their own interest when it comes to choosing which places to visit. It all depends on how we can package and organise their tours well in advance so that they can visit their areas of interest around the country and hence cover every business in the tourism supply chain, such as smaller shops, traditional souqs and traditional restaurants and cafes. For this, we need the cooperation of tour operators.
How do you assess the performance of tour operators?
They are doing well and have been able to meet the expectations, but they can always improve and aim for something better. They can help utilise the potential of local businesses, especially small businesses. They should think of contributing to both their businesses and those of the locals, especially outside Muscat.
Don't you think that Oman is losing backpackers who can complement the success of high-end tourism in the Sultanate and can also help increase the number of tourists coming to the country?
Yes, backpackers can indeed add value in terms of their expenditure and also can attract more number of tourists to the country. This means we should make the necessary facilities available for this segment of tourists including the budget hotels as they tend to spend more time on adventure tourism.
They would like to go camping and discover a wider swath of the country they are visiting and make the best of their trip. If they leave Oman satisfied, they can spread the word about their experience and recommend Oman as an ideal destination to others.
In addition, we should target young tourists by building more recreation facilities such as amusement parks and theme parks.