Interview: Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi

How is the ministry promoting balanced and diversified development of tourism infrastructure?

AHMED BIN NASSER AL MAHRIZI: The government has been introducing new tourism products that unlock the sultanate’s tourism potential. The rehabilitation of numerous historical caves in various governorates is one of the moves being considered for tourism. Efforts are also being taken to attract high-value visitor segments, with tourism in meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) being a major priority. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre currently under construction and due for completion in 2015-16, will provide a premium facility at a time when the MICE segment is looking for fresh destinations. The 3000-seat centre with breakout facilities and four hotels totalling 1000 rooms is being constructed to international standards of leadership in energy and environmental design, and is a significant demonstration of sustainable development. The first phase will generate around 2000 jobs and tangible benefits for locally-operated construction companies. The centre will also enhance the sultanate’s global business appeal and create new service-based jobs for Omanis in the immediate future.

What efforts are being made to incentivise domestic and foreign investment in the tourism sector?

AL MAHRIZI: Foreign investment helps augment domestic savings, thereafter attracting finances for development projects, investor-friendly laws and regulations, and incentive packages. At the national level, a foreign investment law embodying a host of concessions and incentives has already been enacted, and was last amended in 2010. The incentive package for foreign investors includes the exemption from business profit tax for five years (extendable for another similar period) in addition to repatriation of profits and imported capital. Other enticements pertain to nominal rent for land earmarked for tourism projects. This allows for non-Omani ownership of real estate in the integrated tourism complexes, a five-year exemption from paying rent and, finally, foreign investors only pay rent on the built area of land. Additionally, the ministry is currently working with the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry to encourage private sector investment and increase the number of entertainment options. These project proposals will create greater options for Omanis and visitors alike.

To what extent is government policy promoting cultural tourism, and what opportunities can this provide for private sector development?

AL MAHRIZI: Culture and heritage have been key elements of the brand developed to secure Muscat as Arab Tourism Capital 2012. The ministry works to showcase cultural heritage during major festivals and in a wide range of marketing campaigns. A 500-seat open-air theatre at Al Falaj Fort developed by the ministry is designed to recognise the richness of this cultural heritage. Since its opening, the theatre has hosted many international performers, again reinforcing cultural values and connections. Of Oman’s large portfolio of over 500 forts and castles, 22 properties are now managed by the Ministry of Tourism. These attractions showcase Omani heritage, while also generating local jobs and private sector entrepreneurial opportunities.

How are Oman’s tourism and hospitality training programmes developing human resources for the sector, and what more needs to be done?

AL MAHRIZI: In view of the labour-intensive nature of the tourism sector, there is room for considerable job opportunities for the Omani workforce. Dialogue is continuing between the ministry and sector training centres aimed at increasing present intake. Government policy asserts that improved education and skills training are vital to strengthen competitiveness. In addition, education and skills training are discussed extensively with tourism companies and investors. Nonetheless, greater effort is needed to create more jobs for Omanis to reap the benefits from this burgeoning sector.