Oman could be the world's best-kept secret, but probably not for long, writes Lydia Moss in her report titled 'OMAN WITH A PLAN' in the December 2008 issue of the US-based monthly magazine Global Traveller. The writer through a lengthy report highlighted the development, progress, and success achieved by the Sultanate in various spheres. Usama Bin Karim Al Haremi, Head of Corporate Communications and Media of Oman Air, focused on the tourism area within the article. Referring to the report by Lydia Moss, a well-known New York-based travel writer, Al Haremi noted that it gave a wholesome idea to the international travellers about Oman, and how it is successfully attracting people from all across the globe.
He notified that The Global Traveller is a business travel publication from the USA that takes into account the sophisticated lifestyle interests of today's executive travellers and is the publication of choice among seasoned business travellers. Global Traveler is the only ABC - audited American magazine for the international business traveller, with ABC paid circulation of 100,000 +. The magazine is also the only ABC audited magazine and independently measured by Media Mark Research (MRI), a dominant voice in media and consumer research in the United States. No other monthly magazine in its category boasts a higher audited circulation or page count.
The report reads: "Stunningly situated at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, this erstwhile seafaring country long ago discovered trade routes to the Far East and Africa. Persians, Indians, Arabians, and Portuguese all landed here. It is said that Omanis even clued Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama into the routes, a tip that eventually led to his voyage to the New World. Today, Oman is taking advantage of its plum location and turning to trade and tourism. But unlike its splashier neighbors who are growing at lightning speed, the Sultanate of Oman is being more deliberate in finding the right balance between the ancient and the new."
Al Haremi said that along with portraying the picturesque Oman, the report also brings to light the benevolence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said's regime. "His Majesty's directives towards enhancement of Oman's tourism potential while adhering to its rich culture and ensuring world-class facilities for tourists are some of the points that have found mention in many international reports, and Lydia Moss's report too mentions this aspect. He added that Today's progressive, modernising, and forward-looking Oman takes its inspiration from the wise policies of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos."
In her report, Lydia writes that Oman is about the size of Nevada and became independent in the 17th century, when the Portuguese departed. "Modern Oman, however, began in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to power. At the time, the country had four miles of paved roads. Since then, oil revenues have led to a new infrastructure that includes roads, electricity, and water in even the most remote villages.
Qaboos’ reign has been characterized by political stability and the slow transformation of Oman into an emerging, world-class economy that depends increasingly upon diversification. Yet, as Oman grows, it takes steps to protect the invaluable environment. Buildings can be no higher than nine stories, for instance, and they mostly adhere to traditional Islamic architectural style, which serves as a constant reminder that you are in Oman and nowhere else."
On the diversification plans, the report says that with 600 miles of coastline, Oman can capitalize on trade and tourism as it moves away from oil and develops major industrial and transportation ports. "At the southern tip of the country, Salalah is becoming a major container port and industrial zone; with its natural deep water, it is the only port between Europe and Singapore capable of handling the largest container ships. A free zone enables investors to obtain licenses, visas and other tax advantages. In the north, a new port and industrial zone is taking shape at Sohar, which is closer to Dubai than Oman’s capital, Muscat. An opening economy is luring foreign investors with such incentives as a corporate income tax that ranks among the lowest in the region, privatization programs and improved telecommunications.
Al Haremi noted that the report brings to light the great tourism potential of Oman also about the major investments in the hotel, hospitality, and real estate industries. "Oman’s gorgeous, unspoiled beaches remain a largely untapped gold mine for tourism, which grew by 16 percent in 2006 with an emphasis on luxury travel. Oman’s largest and most luxurious getaway, the Shangri- La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, opened in 2006 and is putting Oman on the map as the next must-visit country. Several other major hotel projects are under development. Most noteworthy is The Wave, an $820 million luxury residential and hotel complex scheduled to open in 2010 on prime beachfront overlooking the sea of Oman and conveniently located near the country’s international airport. In addition to containing four hotels, one of which will be managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the mega-facility will feature a marina and a world-class Greg Norman golf course — the country’s first real golf facility.
"Another significant investment, Blue City in Al Sawadi, is about 90 miles north of Muscat. When completed, this $15 billion property will be the largest mixed residential and tourism development in the Gulf region. Dubai International Properties is expected to invest more than $800 million for yet another tourist and residential development at Yiti, on the coast south of Muscat. This development will include three hotels, villas, a golf course and canals leading to the nearby mountains. In the north, the Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay is the first upscale resort set among the mountains and fjords of the Musandam Peninsula. Predictably, cruise ships are discovering Oman as well. The luxury cruise line Silver Seas is anchoring at three ports to take advantage of the stunning coastal scenery and exotic culture, with stops at Salalah, Khasab, and Muscat.
"Despite these massive developments, some of which remain in the early stages, Oman is carefully cultivating a reputation for selective, high-end tourism rather than package tours. Even with its developing ports, industrial areas and tourist opportunities, Oman is avoiding development that mirrors its booming neighbor, Dubai. Looking ahead, investments in tourism and construction, along with a burgeoning real estate market, should fuel the economy and create jobs for Omanis — including women, who are allowed to drive, work if they choose and even serve in government. Oman is spending more than $3 billion to expand its international airport in Muscat and will soon have three new domestic airports. And in a public relations accomplishment, the Sultanate was named one of the world’s top 20 economically free countries.
"Muscat alone is a fascinating trip back in time. The twin forts of Jalali and Merani, built in the 16th century, overlook this port city in which even new buildings look patently Islamic. The authentic Muttrah Souk is usually bursting with an interesting array of Omani jewellery, Bedouin handicrafts, fragrant spices, and Omanis doing their everyday shopping. Muscat also has a thriving fish market, where the dazzling array of fresh fish includes some netted from coral reefs near the shore. The modern Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque accommodates 20,000 worshippers and is the only mosque open to non-Muslims. Inside, you can’t miss the famed Persian carpet, which took 600 women four years to weave.
Rounding up her report, Lydia writes that outside of Muscat, one can explore the desert, the coast, and mountains that hold old villages, forts, and wadis. Or you can simply hit the water and sail along the coastline. "There is snorkeling, game angling, and first-class diving — Oman remains one of the best-kept secrets of the diving world. Sightseeing highlights include Birkat al Mawz, a famed fortress with its well-preserved falaj (stone irrigation system); Jebel Shams, the country’s highest mountain, known as Mountain of the Sun (Oman’s Grand Canyon); Wadi Ghul, the rug-making village; Wadi Bani Awf a famed historical route through the Hajar Mountains; The ancient city of Nizwa, once the country’s capital, and today an oasis city known for its lush palms and Bahla Fort (a UNESCO Heritage site), and fine pottery."