Oman's 2016-40 strategy for the tourism sector includes development of untapped regions within its governorates. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: In Oman, the hotel and tourism projects have some catching up to do. The whole of 2020 and a major portion of last year was all about countering the Covid pandemic, and this took the focus away from strengthening Oman’s credentials as a tourist destination.

But all that is changing now, and the Sultanate is pushing ahead with creating multiple hospitality-focused mixed-use destinations, and taking those concepts beyond the capital Muscat. Explaining all this is Haitham bin Mohammed Al Ghassani, Director-General of Tourism Promotion at Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.

Oman’s hospitality and mixed-use destinations have focused on locations outside Muscat. Are you planning a change to the mix?

Agreements had been signed to implement ‘integrated tourism complexes’, such as the Yiti and Rawasi, in addition to some new projects in the Corniche area in the Wilayah of Muttrah. In Muscat, it is expected that about 19 hotels will open during 2022, and add more than 3,000 rooms in the sector.

According to the recommendations of the Omani Tourism Strategy 2016-40, we are focusing on achieving a balance in tourism development by finding qualitative projects and new ideas across varied governorates based on the nature of the region.

Will tourism project investors receive tax holidays?

The government seeks to grant some incentives to investors, including those related to exemption from the rental value of the project for up to five years starting from the date of signing the contract between the ministry and the investor.

The rental value is calculated on the actually exploited area of the project land, provided that it is not less than 50 per cent of the total area. This is in addition to granting lands to investors through ‘usufruct’ contracts between the ministry and the investor for a period of 25-50 years, extendable for a similar period.

From castles and forts to dipping deep into history, Oman's tourism roadmap touches all possible options. Image Credit: Supplied

Oman’s investment laws have been updated, where foreign investors get to have full ownership. Does this apply to hospitality projects as well?

Foreign investors have full ownership, without the exception of projects located in the border governorates of the Sultanate. The Foreign Capital Investment Law has been updated with new and unique initiatives, the most important of which is the right of foreign investment in projects by 100 per cent without requiring the presence of an Omani partner regardless of the model they operate into.

Are you planning any further changes related to creating investment zones for residential or mixed-use projects?

Yes, the ministry is seeking to conduct a consultative study to develop a plan for the management of areas of a ‘special nature’, such as the Al Sharqiya Sands in North Al Sharqiya Governorate, which it is a tourist area with a distinct environment. The study aims to set the regulatory controls for the area.

It focuses on all relevant aspects to prepare it for tourism purposes in line with the Omani Tourism Strategy, given its specificity and desert nature. Incentives for investors with regard to licences and procedures to invest in areas of a special nature will also be offered.

Another example is the Wadi Shab. The ministry seeks to attract investments to some areas that need to establish distinctive tourism projects. It was recently approved to establish an integrated tourism complex project in the state of Khasab in the Musandam governorate, where the investor will be given an opportunity to establish real estate components and tourist facilities. This will encourage investment and sale of real estate units in the region to form a tourist and economic attraction for the region.

Do you plan to launch a major campaign overseas centered around choosing Oman as a tourism destination?

The work to promote the Sultanate as a unique tourist destination continues, even if there was some pause during the Covid pandemic.

What’s the combined development value of your ongoing hospitality-themed projects?

It is expected that a group of hotel projects will open during 2022, amounting to 70 hotel facilities in all governorates at various classification levels. These will add more than 4,500 hotel rooms, varying between resorts, hotels, camps and hotel apartments, in addition to focusing on products with tourist experiences such as heritage inns and ‘green lodges’.

The ministry also seeks to invest in the heritage sector through agreements in the management and operation of some archaeological sites of historical value, such as castles and forts. This will add a unique experience for the tourist to familiarise with historical knowledge and highlight the area such as the Nizwa Castle Rustaq and Jibreen Fort in Bahla Province.

Will Oman’s focus on the near term be on visitors from the other Gulf countries?

The countries of the GCC did and still receive attention. Work is always going on to attract them to the Sultanate throughout the year, not just during the Khareef Salalah season.