Muscat: Oman cannot bank on its natural beauty and colourful history to attract modern tourists anymore since the new waves of young visitors are firmly entrenched in modern structures and technology-driven entertainment.
The best way to make sure that tourists go back happy is to combine natural surroundings, leisure and hospitality into one package.
To start with, there is not enough entertainment in the Omani towns and cities and very few places have world class modern amenities. Comprehensive transportation is another setback.
Oman needs a Metro system in every major town that connects all the airports to areas with natural beauty spots. Tourists still come here for the peaceful surroundings of the wadis, waterfalls, trekking, mountain climbing, desert camping, snorkelling and the white sandy beaches. However, reaching those places sometimes can be a nightmare and expensive, too.
Tourists rely only on taxis and buses. Both modes of transportation are not reliable. Taxis are expensive and drivers do not speak English. Buses do not cover all the routes and they are largely inefficient. But even a new Metro system is not enough. Smaller towns, where most of the beauty spots are located, don't have budget hotels or guest houses.
At the moment, tourists go there for a day and return in the evening to Muscat. It is a very tiring adventure. They need a comfortable accommodation outside Muscat to spend the night after hours on the road so they can wake up in the morning all fresh to enjoy the surrounding beauty. For high class tourists, in Muscat and other cities like Salalah and Sohar, we don't have enough world class hotels. In the same context, we also need more affordable hotels in the cities for tourists with a low budget as well.
There are also not enough means of entertainment in the few resorts in the country. This is one reason that these resorts are largely vacant. The only entertainment is a swimming pool and perhaps a gym. Both are not a good reason for a tourist to spend a lot of money to come here.
We must attune ourselves to the demands of a modern tourist if we want to continue to attract visitors in a large number. The whole Omani tourism industry is heavily dependent on the Salalah Khareef season. The visitors to the southern resort make up for over 70 per cent of all visitors coming to Oman. Salalah seems to heavily support Oman's tourism efforts while the rest of the country lags behind. One thing worth noting is that most of the Dhofar-bound tourists are from the Gulf countries looking for milder weather in the summer.
To have a competitive edge over other Gulf countries, the government must come up with a comprehensive plan to lure international tourists. Important questions should be asked as to what a modern tourist is looking for. What are their demands and how does the country plan to cater to their needs while they are here?
A thorough study must be carried out, taking up examples of neighbouring country like the United Arab Emirates. This will pay rich dividends. This year, Dubai has achieved a significant milestone of being the second busiest airport in the world. Most of them are visitors looking for something different. It all boils down to what modern tourists want for their holiday. A family wants something for the children, their aging parents and certainly wants to combine shopping and leisure.
Forty years ago, Oman used to pride itself as its art and craft used to impress the tourists. New generations now, sadly, do not care much about these things.
They want large scale amusements, pursuits and never ending excitements the moment they land at the airport.
They want to see fast trains waiting for them, connecting them to their hotels and a fun filled agenda for the duration of their entire stay. Tourists who are tired want to relax in large squares watching entertainment or sit by the roadside cafes, chilling out with a glass of a refreshing drink in the evening.