While recent years have seen steady growth in arrival numbers from Europe, Asia, North America and Oceania, Oman’s principle source market remains much closer to home. According to a report released in February 2018 by Colliers International, the Middle East has historically provided over half of arrivals to the sultanate, accounting for 58% of total visitors in 2017. Nationals from the GCC, specifically, represented the largest slice of the pie, at 48% of all visitors. Colliers also forecast that the Middle East would represent the source market with the highest compound annual growth rate between 2018 and 2021, at 17%.
Tourism authorities have therefore decided that GCC nationals should receive special attention in their promotional activities. In this, the sultanate hopes to capitalise on an expanded range of flight connections at Muscat’s new international airport, improved land links on the peninsula and a portfolio of domestic destinations that are particularly appealing to the Gulf traveller.
Facts & Figures
As the figures reflect, Oman is already popular with many GCC citizens. The khareef (monsoon) season is a particular hit, allowing visitors some respite from the heat of August and September. Indeed, visitors to Salalah and its environs in August 2018 were up by 16% year-on-year, with GCC visitors accounting for 88.4% of the total, although the bulk of these were Omani. Of the 373,000 visitors that month, 73,697 came from other GCC states – a significant increase on the 60,696 that visited in August 2017.
Widening that appeal and success to other regions will be a major focus going forward. While GCC nationals continued to be the highest source market for Oman as a whole, with January to September 2018 seeing 1.18m GCC arrivals out of a total of 2.3m visitors, in September alone the number of GCC visitors was 112,915 – down from 178,309 in the same month of 2017.
Ease of Doing Business
When it comes to actual movement across borders, citizens of GCC countries enjoy visa-free travel to each other’s lands. Since June 2017, however, when Saudi Arabia and the UAE led an economic blockade against Qatar, travel between Qatar and these two nations – plus Bahrain – has been prohibited. This has led to an increase in traffic between Qatar and Oman, with Muscat now an important link for travel between Doha and other GCC states. In this way, the sultanate offers a meeting ground for many cross-GCC families who are no longer able to meet directly.
While regional flights have increased since March 2018, when the new Muscat International Airport opened, road links to Oman have also improved recently, enabling more GCC travellers to drive to the sultanate. Indeed, a highway connecting Oman to Saudi Arabia is scheduled to open near the end of 2018, with the Royal Oman Police conducting the first driving trials on the Omani side in June. This connection will shorten the land route between the two countries by 800 km. The highway runs 160 km from Tanam in Oman’s north-east to the border, then 247 km to the Shaybah oil field in Saudi Arabia before starting another 319 km to the Batha-Haradh road, which leads to Riyadh. This link should help boost tourism from Saudi Arabia, as should the October 2018 roadshows organised by the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) in Jeddah and Riyadh. These introduced Saudi sector professionals to the slate of new hotels opening in the sultanate (see analysis) and highlighted the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre as an ideal space for events.
The ministry has also been targeting the UAE. In June 2018 Salem Adi Al Mamari, the director-general of the MoT’s Tourism Promotion Department, told reporters that both UAE nationals and residents would be the focus of a variety of new packages. These will include direct flights with low-cost carrier Air Arabia from its hub in Sharjah to Muscat, Salalah and Sohar, along with hotel and travel insurance deals. In May 2018 the MoT formed a partnership with the UAE-based travel website Holiday Factory, through which the online tour operator acts as a platform for scheduling trips to the sultanate.
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