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WITH sparkling turquoise wadis (valleys), stunning gorges, mountains and unspoilt beaches, Oman is bursting with nature, and the government is leveraging on its natural beauty to hit its goal of attracting 11 million tourists by 2040.
Oman welcomed 3.3 million visitors last year, an almost 5 per cent increase from 2016, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism.
Nature seekers can easily access Oman's mountainous landscape in just two hours' drive from the capital to the country's highest mountain Jebel Shams at over 3,000m.
Nearby, mountain plateau Jebel Al Akhdar is known for its cool climate, reaching only 22 deg C in summer. As a result of this unique weather, the area is ripe with a variety of fruits such as apricots and figs, as well as almonds, walnuts and saffron.
For beach-goers, head for the Arabian Peninsula's easternmost point, Ras Al Jinz, also home to endangered green sea turtles.
A unique attraction of Oman is the southern Dhofar region during the khareef, monsoon season, which transforms the dry landscape into one teeming with lush greenery. The city of Salalah has long been a popular destination to witness this unique phenomenon. In fact, the number of visitors to Salalah rose to more than 800,000 this year, with the annual Salalah Tourism Festival a huge crowd drawer.
Within Muscat, the capital holds heritage treasures such as the architectural masterpiece that is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and Muttrah Souq, among the oldest in Arabia.
MAKING INROADS THROUGH MICE
The sultanate is also scoring wins in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector.
Oman's Ministry of Tourism and ITB Berlin, the world's largest travel trade show, announced last month that the sultanate will be the official partner of ITB Berlin 2020.
Tourism Minister, Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mahrizi said: "ITB Berlin is the leading platform for the global travel industry. With this partnership we will be able to draw major attention to our country as a travel destination. We are greatly looking forward to presenting Oman as a destination to such a wide audience in 2020."
The two-year-old Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre (OCEC) has also boosted business tourism, hosting 291 events in the last two years.
It has secured several large conferences that will bring more than 40,000 visitors till 2024. These include SICOT 2019, World Hospital Congress 2019 and World Cancer Congress 2020.
TRAVEL MADE EASY
At the same time, Oman has enhanced its infrastructure capabilities, its largest project thus far, the new Muscat International Airport, that began operations in March.
The new airport is expected to handle passenger capacity of 20 million a year and will continue to undergo expansion to increase capacity.
From January to September, the airport has seen more than 11 million passengers, a 9.8 per cent increase over the same period last year.
National carrier Oman Air also launched new flights this year to Moscow, Casablanca and Istanbul.
An e-visa portal launched last year and relaxed visa rules help facilitate ease of entry too. New tourist visas were introduced this year, allowing tourists to stay for up to 10 days, one month and one year.
ROOMS FOR MORE
To cater for more tourists, there are 55 hotels expected to begin construction or are currently being constructed within this year and next year, providing 4,763 hotel rooms, according to a report by the Ministry of Tourism.
Established brands that opened this year include the luxury Kempinski Hotel Muscat, Fraser Suites Muscat and the Millennium Resort Salalah.
Opening early next year is the 305-room JW Marriott at Madinat Al Irfan at the OCEC. It boosts MICE offerings with 1,200 sq m of function space, two grand ballrooms and six meeting and board rooms.
Other hotel brands establishing a presence include the Hilton Garden Inn Muscat Al Khuwair, a modern 232-room hotel scheduled to open in January.
Mandarin Oriental has also announced a 150-room Mandarin Oriental, Muscat and 155 residences at Mandarin Oriental, expected to open in 2021.