OUTLOOK — By Mohammed Al Rahbi — The best thing about the Ramadhan evenings organised by the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) is that they reinforce the culture of dialogue over national issues, giving the public a chance to meet the officials face to face without the mediation of public relation offices or press dialogues with questions prepared beforehand and answers given later. Journalists don’t have to exert efforts to meet the ministers while the latter don’t bother to answer queries so long as everything is done on their behalf.
The OCCI’s Ramadhan evenings are open meetings with the ministers who either show readiness to answer the attendees’ questions or else they will be deemed aloof from what is going on in their ministries. Still there is a possibility to give dodgy answers, elusive narrative and theoretical language; there is nothing easier than talking about future plans, studies and intentions without specifying the nature of these plans and what is expected to be achieved on the ground rather than on papers and speeches.
In the speech of Ahmed bin Nasser al Mehrzi, Minister of Tourism, I noticed what could be called ‘tourist realism’; this is quite encouraging as the ministry’s confession that problems exist indicates that it is seeking solutions. Those who are constantly speaking about achievements are incapable of improving the conditions as long as everything is perfect in their eyes.
Scores of tourism projects have been announced, two thirds of which are still unknown. The lands that were awarded for tourism projects remained unexploited and prone to be grabbed by those who know the way to do this.
The sincere efforts being made will certainly pay off as the changing Oman is pushing towards creative thinking which cuts off with the traditional frameworks that deal with tourism as a short promenade despite the fact that tourism has become an industry that requires more than the hollow theories which gained us nothing.
The new leadership of the Ministry of Tourism has a period of time before we can judge its plans aiming at reinforcing the role of the tourism sector in enhancing socio-economic growth. Tourism development requires adopting two ways: long-term planning which can yield some results through small projects, and long-term strategy aiming at setting up viable tourism industry based on robust infrastructure. Many countries are investing heavily in tourism by means of building solid groundwork for tourism while our tourism infrastructure is still weak and not fitting the country’s historical and geographical standing. It is not concordant with the funds injected into tourism. In fact all we want is small projects such as cable cars in Jabal Shams and Mughsayl as a sort of entertainment for tourists.
I was impressed by tourism minister’s remarks that tourists do not stay in the country more than five days. The minister was right in his comment. How can the tourists stay at a place where no means of entertainment are available? Hotel charges are too high and the restaurants do serve Asian dishes instead of the traditional Omani food.