Interview: Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad Al Mehrzi
To what extent does focusing on high-end tourism impede GDP contribution, and how is this strategy being reviewed to broaden appeal?
AHMED BIN NASSER BIN HAMAD AL MEHRZI: We plan for tourism to be the fourth-largest sector in the economy, and while we still view high-end tourism as a profitable endeavour in terms of its high contribution to GDP, we are not losing sight of guided, mass tourism opportunities. Ministry of Tourism (MoT) policies seek to strike a balance between these two markets. We have had success in achieving this in recent years and are working to strengthen these policies going forward.
Data on tourist arrivals over the past few years shows that mass tourism to destinations such as Salalah, particularly during the khareef (Oman’s monsoon season), has been on the rise. Cruise ship and chartered flight arrivals from Scandinavian countries have likewise been steadily increasing. To serve this growing demand, mid-range and budget accommodations could complement existing luxury options and add further value to the industry. There is a continuing need to further develop infrastructure in remote areas with strong potential for tourism.
What role should the private sector play in the strategic development of tourism in Oman?
AL MEHRZI: In the past the private sector has been a strategic partner in our efforts to develop and grow the tourism sector and it will continue to play a leading role in terms of both investment and operations. This is particularly crucial as future government involvement in the industry will be confined to more legislative and organisational spheres.
Going forward the government will use concessions and incentives to help promote and enhance further private sector involvement in the industry. The MoT is particularly interested in boosting cooperation and coordination with a view to facilitating the private sector’s key role as the main engine for growth in the tourism industry. Indeed, growing the tourism market has been, and continues to be, a key long-term objective for the economy as a whole.
How can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) help achieve tourism industry objectives?
AL MEHRZI: In recent years the sultanate has started to attach greater importance to the role that SMEs can play in terms of tourism development. They have a distinct ability to function in certain areas of hospitality (e.g., motels or smaller-sized accommodations), supplying food and beverage for hotels or restaurants, leisure (e.g., water sports), and even retail (e.g., gift shops at tourist destinations).
The government has also undertaken many initiatives to facilitate SME growth in the country. Its policies have focused on encouraging SMEs by offering preferential financing; easing terms and conditions for lending; helping to obtain services and permits for start-ups; and providing technical support and marketing assistance for entrepreneurs.
In what ways can higher education strategies facilitate Omanisation in the tourism industry?
AL MEHRZI: Higher education institutions and tourism entities alike have been working hard to boost student intake and to diversify course offerings in accordance with government plans to increase the level of Omanisation in the tourism sector. The ministry is continuing to cooperate with these institutions in order to closely coordinate efforts to further this strategic employment objective.
Higher education entities are also being proactive with respect to job opportunities in the tourism industry. That said, the level of Omanisation in the sector is admittedly still well below government targets, as can be seen in the 2011-2015 Five Year Development Plan. In a similar vein, the new Oman tourism strategy, which is still in the preparation stage at the MoT, is set to identify capacity building in the tourism sector as a main strategic focus.
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