Recent government campaigns are promoting the Sultanate to its own citizens, cultivating a vibrant domestic tourism industry through special offers, social media interactions, and infrastructure development.
A few years ago, Omanis holidaying in the Sultanate were the exception, not the norm. While various nationwide reports showed that regional tourism was going strong, with just under half of all recorded visitors to Oman in 2014 coming from other GCC member states, domestic tourism had not been the country’s main focus.
However, to stem the outflow of its citizens during holiday periods, especially during the hotter summer months when the tendency persists among Omanis to migrate to cooler climbs, the Omani government launched a campaign to promote domestic tourism. This campaign, now in full swing, seems to be paying off. During 2017’s Khareef festival (July-September), the National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) reported record numbers of domestic tourists in the southern region of Salalah. In August, the NCSI counted 55,835 Omani tourists, out of a total 102,234 visitors, representing over half the total footfall in the country over the period. These results show a continued positive trend, with the 2016 figures for the same region indicating that Omanis made up 74% of the total number of visitors during the course of the festival. The seeds of change were planted in 2015, when the Ministry of Tourism launched an annual, three-day program to promote domestic summer tourism: the Discover Oman’s Beauty campaign. During the campaign, hotels and tour operators were given the opportunity to showcase their offerings at an exhibition held in the City Center Muscat shopping mall. The participants were encouraged to offer special packages and competitive rates to residents and nationals who presented the necessary credentials when making reservations. The chief objective of the Discover Oman’s Beauty campaign was to generate and maintain year-round tourism, stop the summer outflux, and entice citizens to explore corners of the country not previously on the tourist map. Responding to criticism that it was slow to harness digital opportunities to advertise such campaigns, the Ministry of Tourism upped the ante on its online approach. Now, the internet is host to the ministry’s micro-website, a platform that appears during the summer months and on which hotels and tour operators can promote their offers. The ministry has also created a hashtag, #ExperienceOman, to digitally map hidden gems Omanis might come across while rediscovering their own country. Now in its third year, the ministry has declared the Discover Oman’s Beauty campaign a success, with evidence to suggest it is growing every year, both in terms of service providers as well as local followers. More recently, the Omani government has announced plans to develop several “integrated tourism stations” across the country in a bid to further promote road trip culture among its citizens. Located on various major highways across the country, the proposed complexes will include petrol filling services, top-end hotel facilities, retail centers, food courts, tourist information centers, child play areas, and separate prayer rooms for men and women: the ideal one-stop-shop for weary travelers. The Ministry of Tourism itself has earmarked 17 plots of land for construction, including sites on the Adam-Thumrait and Al Batinah Express roads, and is encouraging private investors to enter into the scheme. The Oman Tourism Development Company (Omran), the tourism development and investment arm of the Sultanate, has also joined the campaign to boost domestic tourism, planning the construction of mid-range and budget hotels across the country and widening the geographical scope of its Atana brand, a local chain of hotels. The idea is that, with more facilities, and with a well-known and well-respected local provider as well as exclusive, residents-only deals, citizens will be inspired to tread the path less traveled across their own country. Ultimately, the government hopes they will reach the conclusion that, with such a plethora of tourist attractions available in their own backyard, there is little need to go elsewhere.