Connecting cultures through tourism in Oman
Tourism provides an opportunity for direct communication among people with different cultural backgrounds, and this, in the case of countries like Oman, helps eliminate the prejudiced, distorted image formed about Arab and Islamic nations. Tourism also reinforces the citizens' feeling of pride about their history and culture. It is an effective means for achieving peace worldwide and diminishes bias and fanaticism, thereby encouraging respect of cultural diversity.
Culturally speaking, tourists' willingness to buy traditional and handmade goods, tourism offers an opportunity to revitalize old professions. Tourists also take interest in folk dances, the arts, the heritage, the cultural identity, the relics and historical monuments in the areas they visit. This gives economic value to forts, castles and archaeological sites and transforms them from a burden into value-based objects, and, in this way, encourages the governments to protect them.
The streamlining of procedures to obtain entry visas is among the factors that encourage tourists to visit destinations. The Ministry of Tourism, acting in co-operation with the departments concerned, drafted formula for the streamlining of procedures for tourists wishing to visit the Sultanate. It adopted new regulations which began to be implemented from mid-2003. These regulations include the possibility residents of 63 countries obtaining entry visas from the diplomatic missions therein and at all border checkpoints without any need for local sponsors. It has also become possible to issue visas to the citizens of other countries with local sponsorship just from the border checkpoints. Applications for visas are settled within one day only. Such visas last one month and the duration is renewable for a second month from the date of entry.
The citizens of different countries can benefit from tourist visas from the Directorate General of Passports and Residency or one of its branches as per the request of a local sponsor, being a tourism company, a tourism office, a hotel or an airline company operating direct flights to the Sultanate. The Directorate General undertakes to clear the request in two days from its date. Travelers on flights to the Sultanate can obtain transit visas lasting 72 hours and this option is available to people of all nationalities upon the sponsorship of the airline company concerned.
To diversify products by introducing new genres of tourism projects, the Ministry of Tourism carried out a variety of environmental and cultural tourism projects. In the field of environmental tourism, the required land plans are offered.
Oman takes part in international, regional and local exhibitions with a view to promoting the Omani tourism products and spreading information about the most important Omani tourism landmarks. During such exhibitions, meetings are held with investors, brokers, promoters and seekers of tourism destinations. The ministry also organises conferences as another genre of discourse between countries and intellectuals of the world. This type of tourism gains special attention in many countries.
As many as 10,644 exhibitors from 187 countries, among them the Sultanate, participated in the expo. The Sultanate's delegation was headed by Maitha bint Saif al Mahrouqiyah, Under-Secretary of the Tourism Ministry.
The Sultanate participated in a stand that contained 32 establishments and organisation from Omani tourism sector, in addition to another stand for Oman Air.
The Sultanate's stand contained touristic information centres pertaining to the Tourism Ministry, TV monitors for presenting touristic promotional films, information counter for distributing promotional publications, in addition to Omani hospitality corner and offices of organisation and establishments representing Omani touristic sector.
The Sultanate's and Oman Air's stands witnessed heavy attendance due to hearty welcome and hospitality, in addition to historical exhibited articles and Omani customs worn by Omani youth participating in the Sultanate's stand.
Visitors were keen on tasting Omani Halwa and Arabic coffee. The large turnout shows that Oman is a preferred destination for German tourists, a fact also supported by figures.
The Ministry of Tourism also accorded attention to the development domestic (internal) tourism. It encourages citizens and residents in the Suitanate to go on sight-seeing tours around the country to explore its attractions. This type of tourism activates various economic and social sectors. It enlightens the citizens and residents about the Sultanate's environmental heritage, its rich heritage and its cultural hotspots. Towards the development of domestic tourism, the Ministry implemented a number of projects and activities, including promotional campaigns, tourism forums in regions and the installation of signposts to direct tourists to key areas in the Sharpiyah and Dakhiliyah regions, as well as Muscat-Salalah highway.
Booklets and pamphlets are published regularly, carrying more details about tourism sites and produces audio visual material regional and extensively. It set up youth hostels in Niyabat al Ash'khara and Sahnoot in Dhofar governorate to offer more affordable accommodation to visitors. This is in addition to awarding the construction of a large number of public toilets at tourism sites around the country in co-operation with the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources. The Ministry finalized the Sultanate's tourism map and an old mountain paths maintenance project which includes the Barr al Jissah dual path in Muscat governorate and Sab Bani Khamis path at Jabal Shams in the Dakhiliyah region. Sheds, parasols and seats were constructed along the paths.
The government is adopting the principle of drafting elaborate policies for tourism development with clear-cut objectives, timeframes for implementation of projects, evaluation of capabilities, analysis of world tourism demand and future expectations, monitoring of modern tourism trends, benefiting from advanced technology in the tourism industry and utilizing the latest tourism promotion techniques to market the Sultanate as a favourite tourist destination, locally, regionally and internationally. The plans include the study of various projects in which government and private sectors can take part alongside international houses of expertise. The Ministry of Tourism is conducting a type of strategy that targets tourism as an integrate whole,
with sites of natural tourism attraction specified and infrastructure and environmental needs studied.
A number of sites have been selected for mega tourism projects. The most important of these were Ras al Hadd in the Wilayat of Sur in the Sharqiyah region, Al Seifah coastal area in the Governorate of Muscat, Miyout in the Wilayat of Khasab, Musandam governorate and Al Dahareez in the Wilayat of Salalah, Dhofar governorate. The mega projects will be carried out in a style of diversification which will cater to all tastes.
Major non-conventional types of tourism projects include: The setting up of camping centres and youth hostels in key areas; the development of areas like Ras al Hadd to provide a type of marine environment tourism in the Sharqiyah region; the development of hot springs in the interior region, in addition to caves like Al Hoota Cave and Sharqiyah region; the development of hot springs in the interior region, in addition to caves like Al Hoota Cave and Al Falahi Cave and Maqal underground chamber in the Wilayat of Wadi Bani Khalid in the Sharqiyah region and Tiwi Aatir Cave in the Governorate of Dhofar.
Within the framework of environmental tourism development, sites have been established to preserve the natural milieu of projects. This includes the setting up of a centre for tourist services related to the Jalooni Oryx Reserve in the Wosta region. Similar nature conservation centres have also been set up at Al Jabal al Akhdhar in the Dakhiliyah region, Darbat and Khor Ruri in Salalah and Al Saleel Reserve in the Wilayat of Al Kamil W’al Wafi in the Sharqiyah region. These centres aim to maintain the natural attractions and social style of the indigenous population. The local community are involved and enabled to benefit from the tourist projects.