Muscat: As the annual World Tourism Day approaches, a German researcher in Muscat reflects on the growth in cruise tourism in Oman. Her observations find tourism important from an economic viewpoint, but also of caution because of the pollution caused by cruise liners as well the impact on the local community.
The theme of the Annual World Tourism Day to be held on September 27, is 'Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future'.
"This year's World Tourism Day highlights the responsibility of the tourism industry to safeguard and intelligently manage water. In this International Year of Water Cooperation, I urge tourism establishments to cut consumption and improve waste management and I call on individuals to play their part by making environmentally conscious choices when they travel," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a special message published in a release by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).
Tourism is one of the largest growing industries worldwide, growing in Oman as well. Oman has a 3,000-km-long coastline with rich biodiversity, clean beaches, natural fish stock, turtle reserves, protected coral reefs, clear water pools in the mountains — all features that attract international and local tourism.
Tourism can play a major role in enhancing cultural understanding between nations and people.
"However, the larger the number of visitors, the larger the risk of negative impacts on the local community. And the larger the difference between the tourists' culture and the host's culture, the larger may be the negative impact," said Manuela Gutberlet, who has been conducting her research on the cultural and social impacts of large-scale tourism in Oman under the supervision of Prof. Dr Carmella Pfaffenbach, Department of Geography at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, in cooperation with the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech).
Two million tourists
According to the statistics of the Ministry of Tourism, last year around two million international tourists visited Oman on tourist visa, including 257,000 cruise tourists who travelled to Khasab, Muscat and Salalah in 2012 — many of them on a seven-day trip around the Arabian Peninsula.
Cruise liner tourism is on a growth path worldwide and an increasing number of very large cruise liners are being built. According to the Cruise Line Association, a total of 14 ships with 17,984 beds were introduced in 2012.
"The contemporary cruise liners visiting Oman carry up to around 2,000 tourists, most of them European. Many cruise tourists are visiting Oman and the entire region for the first time to get a taste of the Arab heritage and culture.
"Each country has to showcase its very best services, the beauty of the landscape and its rich heritage and culture, so that the tourists are inspired to return one day and stay for a longer duration," said Manuela, who has conducted a large-scale survey and many interviews with tourists for her Ph.D research. "Cruise tourists usually face many constraints," Manuela added.
In Muscat, they stop for eight hours; some walk along the Corniche in Muttrah, stroll through the main street of Muttrah Souq and sometimes walk along the Corniche to Old Muscat. Some others book a bus tour; Muscat city tour is the most popular half-day tour followed by a tour to Nakhl and Barka. "Cruise tourists of large cruise liners are low-spenders, also because they travel on all-inclusive budgets," Manuela noted.
On the other hand, individual or group tourists who stay in the Sultanate for one or two weeks usually have a local tour-guide.
They tend to be well-prepared in advance and more interested in Oman, its heritage and culture. They are well-travelled, have visited other countries in the region and have prepared themselves through guide books, documentaries or listened to the experiences of their friends, family or colleagues.
"Very often, they are more aware of the local customs and traditions. For example, they know about the local dress code and dress accordingly," Manuela said.