Interview: Wael bin Ahmed Al Lawati
How can meaningful work opportunities for nationals be created through Oman’s tourism sector?
WAEL BIN AHMED AL LAWATI: The government realises that job creation will be one of the greatest challenges in the coming years, and Omran has been working on principles for its in-country value policy, which looks at supporting small and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger businesses. Different regions and subsectors have different needs and varying levels of maturity. There can be no sustainable management of tourism in Oman if local communities involved in national tourism projects do not feel that they are benefitting. There are immediate, short-term employment opportunities in the industry that can become permanent positions over the long term. In many respects, tourism is well placed to provide jobs, since fostering skills for employment in the tourism sector is easier than more technically oriented sectors, such as engineering. Tourism as a sector is also designed for upward mobility, as an employee can start in the lower ranks of an organisation and move their way up the value chain, which is encouraging for young Omanis entering the workforce. Direct community projects are about empowering people through skills training and mentoring so locals feel confident about launching their own products or services onto the market. It is about engagement and support that will provide sustainable development and not merely handouts. Supporting and encouraging the local business community to expand will lead to hiring more Omanis and sustainable operations that can’t be outsourced and will create a real impact.
To what extent is the private sector playing a role in the vision and decision-making of future projects and investments? What opportunities exist?
AL LAWATI: Again, this depends on different regions and subsectors, as the private sector is typically more cautious when assessing potential. With more projects picking up steam, there has been growing private sector interest in existing or upcoming opportunities and how they can benefit or fill gaps. Dialogue between the government and private sector needs to be improved, and so we are diligent about sharing information with private firms so they can take advantage of opportunities and suppliers can see where to get involved.
From an investment standpoint, the private sector is still quite cautious. The global economic turmoil has not been kind to national property, real estate and tourism companies, but these sectors have also been the first to bounce back. There is reluctance because private firms wish to see progress on infrastructure projects such as airports and roads that tie the country and its tourism offering together. Currently, the opportunities in the industry are greater than they were 2012, and 2013 and beyond will see further project announcements and tenders of varying degrees.
What can be done to expand Oman’s global brand positioning as a leisure, meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destination?
AL LAWATI: We do not want to compete with our neighbours, but to sell Oman as a well-kept secret catering to more discerning travellers. Mass tourism is not what we are looking for, and the fact that Oman does not have high exposure globally gives us the opportunity to isolate our target markets. We do not want to try and be something we are not, but rather contrast Oman with, say, Dubai. Because supply is limited in Oman we can cater to that demographic wishing to experience something unique. We also do not want to ruin our natural wonders with overdevelopment because tourism is irreversible. It is about yield management and focusing attention on the one tourist who will spend the same amount of money when visiting Oman as 10 individuals put together. The MICE segment will also be important for Muscat in the coming years because the capital city has a unique positioning. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre will bring businesspeople to the country and get them excited about setting up a business or investing here.
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