OUTLOOK — By Hamad Al Alawai — A few years ago the Ministry of Tourism came out with the slogan ‘Tourism Enriches the Nation’, it is a nice one but slogans, however nice they look, are in need of great efforts to make it a reality. I discussed this topic in a series of articles entitled ‘Have we enriched tourism so that it can be enriching’.
I would like to whisper a word of caution to the Ministry of Tourism, although we may exclude the newly-appointed minister for a while. When shall we see a practical application for that slogan in the form of a viable tourism system that benefits citizens, residents and visitors and bring wealth to the whole society and not only the big firms?
The tourism industry in Oman is based on a rich heritage built by ancient Omanis including forts, castles and unique irrigation systems. Tourism in Oman is also aided by a distinguished nature comprising picturesque mountains, deserts and green oases. Oman has a pleasant climate with rains soothing the summer heat and balmy weather in winter.
However, the question remains: how long will we be waiting for the magic of Alladin’s lantern to solve the tourism problems and help us implement the slogan. Certainly, nothing of the kind is going to happen. What we need is deeds rather than hollow slogans. In all the world countries I visited I saw tourism activities and projects that exploit the heritage and historic aspects to the utmost degree, thereby creating a sound tourism industry.
It is undisputable that tourism enriches the nation, however, it should be empowered in order to play its role as it should be.
It is known that tourists are brought into the country by large tourism firms; we have no objection to this since these firms have the ability to cater to all the services required by the tourists, however, the residents of tourist places gain nothing from this activity, on the contrary these places are prone to enormous damage due to dumping of garbage in residential quarters which also costs the municipal authorities large amounts of money to clean up the areas.
In order to enhance the tourism industry and to make it beneficial to as many segments as possible we have to set up a national authority under the Ministry of Tourism to be responsible of devising strategies that form the basis of sustainable environmentally-friendly tourism in line with the directives given by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos many years ago.
Enhancing tourism entails the engagement of locals through a process of buying and selling, including goods and products that are sought by tourists, this creates a large trading activity which benefits the citizens particularly, in local communities.
It is true that there have been notable achievements in some places like Jabal Shams, Sharqiyah sands and Salalah, however, this success remains incomplete as the tourism services and infrastructure in other places still need much effort to be able to attract tourists.
This can be achieved only when the tourism authorities inject more money to improve the tourism infrastructure and invest in the heritage and historic treasures that abound in the Sultanate.