With one of the few natural landscapes in the Gulf region, breathtaking views and incredible hospitality, the Sultanate of Oman has become one of the most sought after travel destinations in the Gulf region.
In 2013 Oman received 1.9 million visitors, a number that is estimated to have increased to well over 2 million in 2014. The small Gulf state was ranked 9 out of 141 nations in terms of tourism safety and security by the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, and was named one of 52 top places to visit in 2015 by the New York Times. The robust travel industry has created a growing tourism sector in Oman that by 2025 will support 143,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Heading investments in the tourism industry is Omran, a government owned company created in 2005 to drive the growth of the tourism sector in the country. Gulf News Journal spoke with Salah Al Ghazali, Acting Chief Investment Officer at Omran on current projects, and the future of tourism in Oman.
GNJ: What projects is Omran currently most excited about?
Al Ghazali: Over the course of 2015 we have seen steady progress on a number of developments in the Sultanate, including the significant Hay Al Irfan Urban Development, which is poised to become the largest mixed-use development ever seen in Oman. Located in close proximity to the new Muscat International Airport and Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, it is currently in the master planning phase, which is set to be unveiled early next year. Meanwhile, construction works on the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre have also proceeded on schedule, with close to OMR 300 million of major tenders recently awarded and the exhibition halls on track for soft opening in the first quarter of 2016.
2014 was milestone year for us at Omran, having witnessed the openings of the celebrated Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort and Atana Musandam. Both destinations have attracted significant acclaim and have pocketed a growing number of international, regional and nation awards and accolades. In 2015 both hotels also became the first developments in Oman to be awarded with the prestigious LEED green building certification.
Steady progress has also been made on Omran’s highly anticipated joint venture projects including Saraya Bandar Jissah, Ras Al Hadd Tourism Development and Al Baleed Resort. When completed, these developments will increase the tourism and real-estate offerings of the Sultanate and strengthen the sector at large.
GNJ: Could you tell us about the new luxury hotel Alila Jabal Akhdar? How is it unique to Oman?
Al Ghazali: Located 150km from Muscat, Alila Jabal Akhdar has quickly become a ‘must-visit’ destination since its opening in May 2014, and has garnered global attention as one of the most desirable destinations not only in Oman, but in the wider region.
Nestled on the breath-taking JabalAkhdar mountain, 2,000 metres above sea level in the western Al Hajar Mountain range, the five-star resort has since secured its position as a premiere addition to the high-end tourist destinations in the Gulf region; as well as providing a catalyst for further developments in this part of the Sultanate. The resort features 86 suites of varied categories and spaces, a first of its kind Omani spa, meeting facilities, restaurants as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
Growing in popularity with each passing day, Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort has already accumulated a growing number of awards and accolades from around the world. In March 2015, the resort was the first development in Oman to be awarded with the internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, representing a milestone achievement for the development of infrastructure in the Sultanate. The resort was also named among the top 60 destinations of the year in the ‘Condé Nast Traveller Hot List’ of 2015. More recently the resort was awarded the ‘Leisure & Tourism Project of the Year’ accolade at the MEED Quality Awards for Projects.
GNJ: How does that hotel chain reflect Omran's commitment to the travel industry in Oman?
Al Ghazali: As mentioned earlier, one of the core values of Oman as a popular tourist destination is its deep-seated roots in its culture and heritage together with it natural beauty. In order to preserve its appeal it is vital to maintain these aspects. Omran as a company firmly abides by this philosophy while at the same time guiding the country on its path towards maintaining a sustainable and highly profitable tourism industry.
Alila as a brand shares similar philosophies when it comes to their assets in every country. It has always been Alila’s long-held vision that commerce, conservation and community can and should be integrated. It is because of this vision that their hotels and resorts have a sense of place that provide opportunities for guests to interact with the people, cultures and natural beauty of the destination.
GNJ: Omran focuses heavily on sustainability in their projects. Why is this so important to your investment portfolio?
Al Ghazali: Sustainability is a fundamental component of the nation’s drive towards balancing the fulfilment of human needs with the protection of the natural environment and beauty; a core aspect of the Sultanate’s touristic aesthetic. This is why Omran places great emphasis on sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism projects preserve and emphasize Oman’s unique traditional integrity and cultural values and complement its natural beauty, whilst at the same time ensuring a modern infrastructure and quality services that are integral to the needs of an ever growing tourism sector.
GNJ: Can you tell us about the Omran Responsible Tourism Strategy?
Al Ghazali: Oman is blessed with a rich heritage, a clean and beautiful natural environment, a wide range of local arts and traditional industries, in addition to security, stability and the warm spirit of the local citizens. At Omran, we take the opportunity to draw on the beauty of Omani culture and heritage throughout all of our developments in the Sultanate. In doing so, we celebrate Oman’s social, cultural and natural diversity by looking at every stage of the lifecycle for our developments in order to conserve, protect and promote uniqueness in an authentic manner. We recognize the responsibility that comes with our mandate to develop Oman’s tourism sector, and this commitment is enshrined in our ‘Responsible Tourism Strategy’ upon which all of our operations are planned and executed. Every member of the Omran team is committed to sustainability in all aspects of our operations, with three key areas of focus, namely: Socio-Economic, Environmental, and Cultural. We aim to make better places for people to live and better places for people to visit, not only for now, but for the generations to come.