Oman on map for tourism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2012, 12:00am


Muscat, the capital of Oman, was recently declared the 'Arab Tourism Capital' for 2012 by the Arab Tourism Ministers' Council.

The country, officially the Sultanate of Oman, is growing as an international tourist destination, with visitors attracted by its stunning 1,700km coastline, vast desert dotted with lush green wadis (oases), mountains and cultural sites including ancient forts, mosques and traditional markets called souks. It is also one of the most developed, stable and liberal countries in the Arab world.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Oman's tourism industry will grow from 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 2.4 per cent by 2020. The council also predicted that the contribution to Oman's economy of tourism-related activity will increase from 7.6 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 9.2 per cent by 2020.

Muscat witnessed strong growth in hotel inventory from 2010 to 2011, while Muscat International Airport handled 6.48 million passengers last year, up from 5.75 million in 2010. National flag carrier Oman Air flies from Muscat to 38 international destinations.

Tawfik Mokhtar, director of sales and marketing at Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, says there are many reasons Oman is proving increasingly popular as a tourist destination.

'Its geographical location, stability, security and safety make it very attractive,' he says. 'Oman has also been ranked among the 20 top-tourist destinations in the world by National Geographic magazine, the only Arab country to appear in the list.'

Oman has a land area of about 300,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3 million. The vast open spaces are ideal for sporting activities including sand skiing and dune bashing in the desert, scuba diving, rock climbing, cave exploration, trekking, surfing, sailing and birdwatching. The Oman Dive Centre in Muscat offers diving courses popular with expatriates and travellers.

The country also has more than 500 forts, castles and defensive towers. The capital's main souk, Muttrah, which is located on the Corniche on the waterfront, is one of the oldest preserved souks in Oman. The maze of alleys are lined with stalls selling perfume oils, frankincense, wood carvings, gold and silver jewellery, spices, household goods and traditional clothing and implements.