It used to be so difficult to get a visa to visit Oman that it was known as the hermit of the Middle East. But now the sultanate is opening its doors, and wants to make Hong Kong its hub for Asian tourists. Its neighbour Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, holds the limelight as the place to be in the Gulf for both business and pleasure, with the help of its award-winning airline, Emirates, which flies daily from Hong Kong. But last week Oman started to compete in earnest by joining the more than 500 exhibitors from 40 countries at the SAR's biggest annual travel trade event, the 14th International Travel Expo (ITE), announcing it is making tourist visas much easier to obtain, even for independent travellers. Mohammed Bin Ali Said, director general of the Ministry of Tourism who led the Oman team, told me: 'We are allowing all visitors from Asia a stopover of 72 hours without a visa, and travel agents can now easily obtain longer visas for group tours. Our consulate in Hong Kong is also issuing visas for individual travel. 'We get very few visitors from Asia, but we want that to change. We have a lot to offer, but people in the Far East don't realise it. We want to make Hong Kong our regional hub.' Most tourists to Oman are from Europe, mainly Germany. Gulf Air flies direct to Muscat in Oman from Hong Kong, and P & O is running package tours there from the SAR. The sultanate is talking to other agents here. Oman, at about 300,000 square kilometres, dwarfs Dubai, and boasts it offers 4WD tours, camel trekking, diving, historical sites including old forts, oases, beaches, mountain drives, fishing, traditional handicraft centres, gold souks and even bull-fighting. Talking about bull-fighting, Spain is also eyeing Hong Kong and the mainland, and was also represented at the ITE. Last night, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce held a seminar entitled 'Next Destination: Spain', at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, which was attended by leading lights in the local travel industry. Spain has seen big increases in tourism recently, and claims to be the second most popular destination in the world after France. This may be so, but there are still no direct flights from Hong Kong. Closer to home, Singapore is holding its Arts Festival this month and Thomas Cook is offering specials, including return air ticket, two nights accommodation with breakfast and admission to one show from $3,690. Tel 2853 9983 or 2312 0668.