The tourist season is on, but there is a dearth of qualified guides, especially those who could handle German and French tourists from Europe. The need of the hour is concrete steps to raise the number and quality of tour guides in Oman.
Oman, the emerging tourist destination in the region, is all set for another season and has just showcased its tourism products and potentials at the World Travel Market (WTM) London. The season would peak in the coming weeks and tourists would flow in from the European countries and from elsewhere. But who's there to guide them through the country's history, culture and traditions? The tourism industry in the Sultanate is in a frantic search for qualified guides.
They arrive in large numbers, in groups, alight from buses at prominent tourist spots in the Sultanate, from cruise liners that dock at Sultan Qaboos port, speak German, French or Italian, but look perplexed at whatever they encounter in this foreign land. They are here to experience and learn about the history, traditions and cultures alien to them and, like every other tourist in every other destination, they would want to take home sweet memories from a life-time visit.
But who's out there to tell them in the language they could comprehend about the castles that date back to 16th or 17th centuries, the remote villages that showcase rich traditions and ancient 'souqs' from where they could pick up valuable memorabilia? Or, who's out there to take them on an exhilarating tour through the beautiful coastline, wadis, mountains and deserts, to watch camels race, turtles nestle and dolphins dive? They say 'beauty has an address' in Oman, but who would address a vital issue that now plagues this popular tourist destination in the Middle East? The season is on. A strong Omani delegation, led by Ahmed bin Nasser al Mahrazi, the Minister of Tourism, was in London last week to attend the World Travel Market (WTM) and to attract more tourists from abroad. It's intended to 'confirm Oman's status as a regional and global tourist destination in the region by focusing on the promotion of its cultural, heritage and tourism potentials'. But back home, the industry is left without sufficient number of qualified tour guides, a crucial requirement of a 'global tourist destination'.
"We have a big shortage of tour guides, especially those who can speak German, French and Italian. We can count them on the fingers!" say all connected to the industry. Of course, the Ministry of Tourism now has plans to introduce free tour guiding courses for Omani nationals in Oman Tourism College, but the effort may not yield results in time, at least for this season.
Lack of support
There's a lack of proper support from the authorities concerned in improving the standards of guides or in getting more guides who speak foreign languages, says Masoud Al Yazeedi, an English speaking freelance tour guide, who is also an employee with the Civil Aviation department. "It's more than two years since they stopped the certificate course in tour guiding in Oman Tourism College and the existing short-term courses in tour guiding or in foreign languages are not adequate. We need intensive courses in German and French and Italian," he asserts.
Efforts from MoT
- Plans to meet the requirement by training Omani graduates in tour guiding; will soon implement an upgraded tour guiding course in Oman Tourism College.
- Conducts workshops for tour guides with speakers from OTC, SQU, the industry and world tour guidance federation.
- Launched a study to form a consortium of tour guides or a company which can source, train and supply guides to the industry.
- Permission for tour operators to recruit their own guides including from abroad through a common examination and inte