With major projects such as the Oman Convention Bureau and the new Muscat International Airport nearing completion, the tourism and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) industries in Oman are set to undergo a major expansion in the coming years, according to the Sultanate’s Ministry of Tourism (MOT).
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News on the sidelines of the two-day Second UNWTO/Unesco World Conference on Tourism and Culture that concluded on Tuesday, Ahmad Bin Nasser Al Mahrizi, Oman’s Minister of Tourism, said: “With the establishment of the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC), the Sultanate has established its position on the regional and global map for MICE events. Oman lies within seven hours flying time of around 50 per cent of the world’s population, a geographical advantage that MICE professionals can leverage.”
With the growth in MICE tourism in the GCC in recent times on the back of expansions in the construction, oil and gas, tourism and financial sectors, Oman has achieved a period of long-term major MICE growth, Al Mahrizi said.
Overall, the Sultanate’s tourism sector has witnessed significant development recently, reflected in the surge in the main indices that measure progress in the sector.
“The number of hotels increased six per cent last year in comparison to 2015. Hotel rooms have increased 12 per cent while there was a 15 per cent rise in the number of tourists last year over 2015,” Al Mahrizi revealed.
Hosting a conference of such magnitude in Oman is testimony to the importance of the country’s MICE sector as one of the most important pillars of business tourism within the Oman Tourism 2040 Strategy, Al Mahrizi said and added that the establishment of the Oman Convention Bureau is a step towards further developing what the country has to offer.
Speaking about the benefits of the tourism sector to Oman’s people and economy, Al Mahrizi said: “A plethora of opportunities is available to the local population who are the catalysts to highlight the essence of the country. We are also working on reviving our old heritage and cuisine to infuse culture into tourism.”
Tourism’s value-add to Oman’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to jump from two per cent to five per cent by 2020, the Minister of Tourism said and stressed that the Sultanate, as part of its strategy for tourism, will develop a road map for the sector that looks 30 years ahead to make it one of the crucial economic pillars for national income.
Speaking about the overall growth in Oman’s tourism sector, Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary, MOT, said: “There has been a good 14 per cent growth versus last year. The number of hotel rooms is above 18,000 keys in the Sultanate. Oman has already geared up for the MICE industry by strengthening synergies between tourism and culture with the Second UNWTO/Unesco World Conference.”
Speaking about new projects, Al Mahrouqi said: “The new, expanded Muscat International Airport will start its operations soon. The domestic airports in Duqm, Khasab, Salalah and Sohar are expected to boost air connectivity in the country.”
Represented by the MOT and the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Oman hosted the two-day conference in collaboration with the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and Unesco. Over 800 participants from 70 countries, representing both the tourism and culture sectors took part in the conference. This aimed to enhance the collaboration between the countries and help execute the sector’s strategies and plans under the supervision of the United Nations.
The opening ceremony witnessed a welcome speech by Al Mahrizi, as well as speeches by Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director General for Culture at Unesco; Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO; Eliza Jean Reid, the First Lady of Iceland; and Prince Sultan Bin Salman Al Saud, the President and Chairman of the Board of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
The conference saw the official appointment of the First Lady of Iceland as the Special Ambassador for Tourism and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UNWTO, which launched the Special Ambassadors for Tourism and the SDGs Programme as a legacy of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.
Istanbul in Turkey and Kyoto in Japan will host the 2018 and 2019 editions of the UNWTO/Unesco World Conference on Tourism and Culture.
Source: Gulf News