Rubba, Musandam Sea Adventure Travel & Tourism Rubba, Musandam Sea Adventure Travel & Tourism

OMAN: A MICE Destination with a Twist (Part 1)

OMAN’S BUSINESS TRAVEL SECTOR HAS BEEN PUT UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT AS A KEY SEGMENT WITH SIGNIFICANT POTENTIAL TO ENHANCE THE SULTANATE’S THRIVING TOURISM INDUSTRY.

IN A BID TO CAPITALISE ON THIS MOMENTUM, MULTIPLE ONGOING DEVELOPMENTS ARE SET TO ELEVATE THE REGION’S IMAGE AS A WORLD-CLASS YET AUTHENTIC MICE HUB.

Oman’s global competitiveness among high-profile tourism destinations has been gradually increasing, with more travellers opting for its cultural history, unique landscapes and genuine hospitality, allowing niche tourism sectors to flourish alongside profitable traditional segments.

Manuel Levonian, general manager, Crowne Plaza Resort Salalah, observed, “[The] Last few years proved [to be] record years for Oman’s tourist industry, with the number of incoming visitors topping those of previous years and wide media coverage promoting the country’s increasingly cemented status as a niche tourism destination.”

In these terms, the country boasts a few differentiating pro-tourism elements, with safety and security standing out.

Beating the tourism hotspots such as Australia, the US and the UK, Oman is among the top 10 safest global economies according to World Economic Forum’s The Travel & Tourism  Competitiveness Report 2017, which represents a highly favourable travel decision-making factor.

Meanwhile, having welcomed a record number of visitors in 2015, the Sultanate has shifted its focus on economic diversification with an emphasis on tourism.

Ambitiously, the current agenda aims to double the number of international arrivals by 2040.

To attain the target numbers, the industry is intensively investing resources in development of infrastructure and modern facilities to enhance the country’s appeal to diverse audiences, including the lucrative MICE segment, which has been identified as a strategic area of tourism growth.

Commenting on MICE, Amit Garg, director, sales and marketing, Al Nahda Hotels & Resorts, elaborated, “Over the years, the business travel segment has been the main stay for hotels in Oman and we feel that this segment will grow further because of the right steps being taken by the government.” He added that the Ministry of Tourism is also reconsidering visa policy and transparency to make Oman more accessible.

The initiatives of tourism authorities and service providers seem to have fallen on fertile ground, as local hoteliers collectively enthused about positive occupancy figures in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2016.

Despite challenges arising from expanding supply, which created a price sensitivity between the establishments, growing demand for accommodation is set to compensate the situation with positive outlook for the second half of the year, as assumed by Vasken Vartanian, director, sales and marketing, Crowne Plaza Muscat.

Expanding on this, STR Global’s study Global Hotel Industry Performance for the Month of April 2017 reported that for the month under review, hotels in regional Oman outperformed the capital with a 43.6 percent growth in RevPAR, which was attributed to a significant over 91.5 percent leap in group booking demand.

Providing evidence of MICE tourism’s importance for the industry’s prosperity, the same data exemplified that during Oman Pediatric and Neonatal Conference in Muscat, RevPAR jumped over 40 percent each day.

THE OMANI WAY

One of the major tourism investment projects, which underlines the government’s focus on growing the business travel sector, is Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC).

It officially opened after completion of the first construction phase in October 2016, with the unveiling the exhibition space and hospitality facilities. Settled within the global gateway-to-be, of Madinat Al Ifran master development, the centre is estimated to contribute up to OMR170 million (USD441.6 million) to the country’s GDP, 30 percent of which is attributed to tourism revenues, according to a preliminary project study between Omran and Booz & Co.

In support of that, World Travel Tourism’s report Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017 revealed that business travel spending in Oman is expected to soar 6.8 percent this year to OMR465.9 million (USD1.2 billion), with its growth forecast standing at 3.8 percent annually to reach OMR679.5 million (USD1.8 billion) in 2027.

The pivotal role of the centre in encouraging the influx of global MICE tourists has been acknowledged by industry professionals who jointly emphasised its unprecedented potential for strengthening the sector.

Usama Al Haremi, head, corporate communications and media, Oman Air, summarised, “Oman is home to a whole host of suitable settings for events and conferences, including the newly developed OCEC – located just a stone’s throw away from Muscat International Airport.

As one of the largest convention centres in the region, this world-class facility is quickly becoming a leading global MICE destination and is equipped with the very latest technology to meet the demands of the most discerning global event organisers.”

The attractiveness of the venue did not take long to spark the interest of MICE audiences.

Ahead of its second phase opening scheduled in December, which will see the launch of the convention premises and related facilities, Trevor McCartney, general manager, OCEC, revealed that the centre has already welcomed thousands of visitors attending 65 events, predominantly of exhibition and corporate character, as well as a Layali Ramadan event, which as a unique destination experience attracted some 87,000 visitors over 24 days.

Looking forward, he further unveiled, “With the next phase of opening, OCEC is targeting more regional and international conferences including Airports Council International Airport Exchange that will bring together the world’s airport community […] on December 05 – 07 and the UNWTO/UNESCO World Conference on Tourism and Culture coming to Oman on December 11 – 12.”

Furthermore, the venue has recently outperformed global competitors by winning a bid to host the upcoming World Cancer Congress in 2020.