MUSCAT, Oman â Tourism Minister Ahmed bin Nasser al Mehrzi has said that the government has tasked the Ministry of Tourism to evaluate the tourism sector and prepare a clear-cut, comprehensive long term strategy to be entrusted to an international house of expertise, following the Council of Ministers' recent approval of referential terms for the strategy.
In a statement before the Majlis Ash'shura here yesterday, Al Mahrazi explained that a three-year period is needed for the implementation of the tourism strategy with effect from 2013 and that a plan for these years will be drafted in co-ordination with the Higher Council for Planning, with special emphasis domestic tourism. The Majlis Ash'shura hosted the minister during the its 5th session of the second annual convening of the 7th Term under the auspices of Shaikh Khalid bin Hilal al Maawali, Chairman of the Majlis Ash'shura.
In his statement, Al Mehrzi pointed out that the current tourism policies focus on encouraging local and foreign investors to set uup tourism projects outside Muscat and the main cities of the Sultanate. The statement touched on updating land development agreements, the tourism law, the system of ownership of properties by non-Omanis in âintegrate tourism complexesâ and the alternatives available for the ministry to deal with investors involved in âsuspended or delayed projects or integrate projects whose owners are likely to withdrawâ.
Then a question and answer session was held during which the minister replied to queries raised by the members of Majlis Ash'shura. A member pointed out that after spending scores of millions of rials on the tourism sector over the past years to enhance the added value of the sector to the Omani economy (probably RO 100 million), the revenue is still weak compared to lavish spending, particularly on promotion programmes.
The minister said that most of the visitors to the Sultanate are of the businessmen category. He added that revenue from domestic tourism was RO 800 million over the past years of the current five year development plan, compared to a mere RO 140 million from external tourism. In reply to the member's comment, the minister noted that âThe type of tourism we have achieved so far is a âhosting of visitor' sortâ. He agreed that the sums spent on the tourism sector are much beyond the aspirations.
Another member complained against a sharp shortage in tourism facilities and services in the governorates and wilayats. The minister replied saying that, as per the policies known to all, the Ministry has a right to withdraw land from inactive or unresponsive investors in any location. Another member criticised the insufficient number of basic services such as water closets and restaurants. The Minister explained that a comprehensive study is being conducted to specify where basic service facilities should be located.
In reply to another member who demanded the establishment of a unified body to regulate âdispersed efforts' in the field of tourism, the minister dismissed the comment as inaccurate, saying that tourism development efforts should be considered in a positive way. He explained that the Ministry of Tourism started a partnership with Oman Air to co-ordinate efforts and that joint work is an ongoing process involving many departments concerned.
Another member claimed that the contribution of the tourism sector to the Gross Domestic Product is very weak. The minister replied that previous statistics about the contribution of the tourism sector in the GDP are inaccurate as it focused, in earlier studies, only on the hotels and restaurants sector, ignoring the transport sector, the aviation sector, car rentals, etc. The Minister said that studies have to be comprehensive and accurate and that the National Centre for Statistics is exerting great efforts âto rectify this deficiencyâ in co-operation with international experts to draft a database for related strategies.
At this point, the Minister reiterated the need for emphasis on domestic tourism which was, in earlier years, neglected while more importance with accorded to tourism promotion abroad.
Another member demanded equality in according projects for investment in âtourism landsâ. In reply to this, the minister said that a general revision of land development is under way, noting that usufruct agreements have to be respected. One of the members inquired about the obstacles against the setting up of a zoo. The minister agreed that the zoo was one of the projects covered by a recent study which showed the high cost of such a facility and the lack of resources to set it up. Asked why no specific Omanisation percentage of Omanisation should be imposed on tourism investment projects.