A ‘Date’ in the Desert
Though distinctly placed as part of the GCC, the Omani world is full of culture and character which is unique to the land and its inhabitants. Even a few days spent in the Sultanate is sure to leave you impressed with the place and its people By Reema Lokesh
The Sultanate of Oman has its very own charm, which is rather distinct both in style and expression when compared to its neighbouring GCC counterparts. The first thing that makes a rather impressive impact is the fact that the fairer sex is highly respected and given her rightful place. From the Khawa (special Omani welcome drink) to the dates, (the story goes that there are more date palm trees in the region than its people) the Omani hospitality is distinct. Undiscovered till about recently, the tourism board of Oman in Mumbai is aggressively and strategically promoting the region in India and the recently concluded mega FAM trip is proof of its commitment toward tourism promotion. The ‘Discover Oman’ FAM for Indian travel agents highlighted some unique tourism elements of country from the mountains, deserts, ocean fronts, to the cultural sites and heritage monuments. The Indian outbound business has always been a promising source market for international tourism boards across continents.
Tapping India outbound
Oman Tourism established itself in India in 2010 to promote Oman as a premium leisure and MICE spot in the Middle East. Since its inception, the ministry of tourism, Sultanate of Oman’s focus has been to cater to the niche, experiential and high-quality seeking travellers in India and promote itself as a leisure, adventure, MICE and wedding destination. To achieve this objective, the ministry with the support of its India office led by Lubaina Sheerazi, India representative, MoT, Oman, conducted its first mega FAM to the region recently, with 60 Indian travel agents on board from Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Hyderabad. The hosted group travelled to Muscat, Nizwa, Sharqiyah Sands, Sur and Ras Al Jinz to discover the culture, landscape, monuments and cuisine of Oman. The aim was to offer the trade partners a comprehensive view of the destination in both the MICE and the leisure space. The group was handled by six DMCs from Oman – Oman World Tourism, Zahara Tours, Tour Oman, Elite Travel & Tours, Gulf Ventures and Bahwan Travels.
The travel agents were given an opportunity for site inspections at various properties including Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Hormuz Grand Hotel, Al Falaj Hotel, Al Bustan Palace – A Ritz Carlton Hotel, Alila Jabal Akhdar, Al Nahda Resort, Ramee Guestline, Wadi Shab Resort, Sur Plaza Hotel, Sahab Hotel, The Jungle Restaurant, On the Rocks lounge and they also went dolphin watching with Sidab Tours. The agents attended B2B sessions and got an opportunity to network with a wide selection of travel and tourism representatives in Oman – hotels, attractions and DMCs.
Speaking at the B2B session, HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, under secretary, MoT, Oman who met the travel agents said, that she was very keen to receive Indian tourists and provide the Indian trade the support they needed. “We have a very special product in this region and are confident that we will meet the expectations of the Indian discerning traveller. Tourism from India has witnessed a steady rise and we can only improve the numbers with time,” she said. The country has witnessed a 10 per cent growth in tourism arrivals from 2012 to 2013.
Launched in 2011, the Discover Oman specialist training programme has offered agents online and offline trainings in the past and continues to be active through product trainings and webinars. The success and feedback received over the years encouraged the MoT to extend the training programme to Oman.
The country is also working towards improving the airport infrastructure in the near future. The tourism board is clear in its strategy to have a long term approach toward the India market. This vision is supported by the national carrier Oman Air with robust flight connections between the two countries. The country has received an encouraging response from the Indian market especially in the film and wedding tourism segments.
Oman has its own style, and it is for those who are looking for a break which is both stately and subtle. From classy hospitality experiences to refined desert camp living, it has a range of products that can pamper you. The Alila Jabal Akhdar, is a unique hotel in its space and its natural settings sets the tone for those who are discovering or rediscovering love. The Al Nahda Resort & Spa close to Muscat provides you with some health centric curative therapeutic offerings. Meet Dr Mary Ann for some life style management talk, and she will not disappoint you. For some business talk check out the Hormuz Grand, which is a new kid on the block. Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa is a destination in itself. It’s unique positioning gives its guests some splendid views of the beach and the mountains combined. Further, The Sahab Hotel in Jabal Akhdar mountain range also has some unique 270 million year old fossils in its set up. The country has some unique hotels in its region namely Hotel Atana Musandam, a very authentic Omani hotel, in Khasab. From fort hotels to seafood restaurants such as Al Baleed, the country has a lot to offer for the foodie as well. From rooftop dining experiences to savouring special Omani delicacies in desert camps, the story of the Middle Eastern journey continues.
Ten Things you must do in Oman
- Try the welcome drink Khawah and of course the dates and also coffee with a combination of rosé and cardamoms.
- Visit the splendid Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque an architectural marvel. The unique handwoven Persian carpet covers over 4,000 sq mtr internal space and its unique chandelier is worth a look.
- Walk around the Souks for some unique trinkets and silver.
- The Muscat Royal Opera is an experience in itself.
- The special sound therapy treatment at the Alila Jabal Akhdar is worth experiencing. It reveals a lot about your chakras in the body.
- Surely stay back in the desert for a night or two to experience the sounds of silence.
- A journey on the sand dunes is a must. You can leave your footprints on the sands of time.
- For some realtime therapy, check out the Al Nahda resort and spa. Meet Dr Mary Ann there, she can guide on some vital lifestyle tips.
- Check out the historical and heritage areas of Birkat Al Mouze region. The unique mud structures will take you into a different era.
- Just enjoy the Omani hospitality which is unadulterated. The people are happy and in love with their ruler.
Adventure and more
For those who feel Oman is all about the desert and mountains, you will be surprised to experience some serious water based and other special adventure experiences. From canyoning, abseiling, caving, climbing to the famous dolphin watching moments in Muscat and Musandam, the place has a lot to offer for those who like to have an adventure touch to their break. For those keen to take a journey into the sea, then scuba diving in Oman is a perfect option. You will meet some seahorses, turtles, dolphins, whale, sharks on your underwater journey if you please.
If the mountains are your calling, then this country has this natural splendour in abundance. The mountain ranges are unique in topography. Take a journey up to Jabal Shams, the region’s highest mountain point; the panorama is special. The country also has another natural site – the sinkhole located in Hawiyat Najm Park on route from Quriyat to Sur, is an interesting stop over. The region of Sur, is also known for being the old world shipping building hub especially the wooden ones. Oman surely takes you to a different world which is old world but pleasantly modern in its style and substance.