Al-Busaidi: “Tanfeedh” promotes economic diversification
Al-Balushi: Tourism is a tool for empowering women
Al-Mahrazi: Cultural and archaeological sites should be utilized in tourism
Afifi: Enhancing tourist services will benefit local communities
Tourism is no longer a marginal sector, nor even just a secondary source of revenue for countries. It has become, in the era of rapid transport and open borders, one of the most important means of improving the standard of living in many communities. In 2019 alone, the global revenues from tourism amounted to over 9 trillion US dollars, making it thrice as big as the agricultural sector. This huge amount was spent by 1.5 billion tourists around the world. The Sultanate’s share was 3.5 million tourists, most from the countries of the MENA region. This number is likely to rise in light of the efforts of the government to revitalize and develop this sector through restructuring and setting plans to make it one of the major revenue streams for the national economy.
Tawasul keeps pace with the various changes the Sultanate is witnessing, shedding light on strategic issues and what experts have to say about them. In this issue, we closely examine the views expressed by a number of academics about means of enhancing tourism in the Sultanate.
Contributions of Tourism
To begin with, Dr. Jalal Afifi, Department of Tourism, introduced the concept of sustainable tourism in Oman: “The potential to develop the tourism industry while protecting the country’s natural resources, both in terms of components and society. Any observer of the tourism situation in Oman will see that the Sultanate is among the main countries that strive to achieve tourism development in its sustainable sense. While some believe that that the country is slow to achieve this, the steps taken in the Sultanate are quite appropriate to avoid any negative effects, especially on the natural components and characteristics of the Omani society, which are an important tourist attraction. This prudent approach will ensure the sustainability of the country's economic resources and ensure job opportunities for Omani youth.”
Reflecting on the global trend to enhance sustainability in various aspects of life, Dr. Hamad Al-Mahrazi, from the same department, said: “Sustainable development goals, also known as the global goals, are a universal call to eliminate the challenges of poverty and inequality, protect the planet from the impact of climate change and environmental degradation, and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity; they are also characterized by inclusiveness and interdependence, since the key to achieving one goal is closely related to other goals; they include everyone without discrimination, and require solidarity and cooperation between countries to achieve sustainability in the world.”
As to the contributions of tourism in achieving the objectives of sustainable development, he said: “The various components of the tourism sector have the ability to attract and provide many job opportunities, including leadership, professional and specialized jobs; they preserve and enhance local culture by making use of them in tourism without affecting their authenticity and sustainability, as well as contributing mainly to revitalizing the economic activities in rural communities by providing various commercial opportunities to members of those communities.”
Dr. Huda Al-Balushi – Department of Tourism – agreed with Al-Mahrazi’s views, emphasizing that: "Tourism can contribute directly and indirectly to the sustainable development goals, which are specifically related to economic growth, overall and sustainable consumption and production, and the sustainable use of environmental and natural resources."
She added: "Tourism is a key factor in eradicating poverty and hunger, ensuring access to services that provide for healthy lifestyles, creating quality education and decent jobs for all, and reducing inequality within society."
On the other hand, Dr. Yaqoub Al-Busaidi, also from the Tourism Department believes that the Sultanate seeks to systematically implement sustainable development goals in cooperation with private-sector institutions and civil society through its various sectors, specifically tourism. This goes in line with the ninth five-year plan as well as programs such as the Omani Tourism strategy 2040, under the guidance of the Ministry of Tourism, and partly implemented by the government-owned Omran Company, and The National Program for Enhancing Economic Diversification "Tanfeedh".
He went on: "Tanfeedh has been designed in collaboration with the Government of Malaysia (Pimandu) and with the participation of public, private, and civil agencies, and is intended to promote economic diversification. The program is focused on specific targeted sectors, namely manufacturing, tourism, transport, logistics, mining, and fisheries. Tanfeedh also contributes to increasing such sectors' contribution to the Sultanate's GDP, promoting investments in promising sectors, and creating jobs”.
Tourism and society
On the issue of enhancing community development, Al-Balushi said: “Tourism is one of the driving forces of global economic growth; currently, one out of every 11 jobs around the world is in tourism. This enhances skills and professional development; this also guarantees gender equality and women’s empowerment in many ways. Since this sector is capable of embracing a large number of working women and entrepreneurs, it is a tool for women to unleash their potential.”
"Tourism plays an effective role in contributing to tolerance and understanding between nations, cultures, and religions, thus laying the foundations for peace globally; locally it provides communities a good livelihood, thereby stabilizing cultural identities and stimulating entrepreneurship."
Apart from contributing to raising the standard of infrastructure in remote areas and preserving Oman’s natural resources, he said, it helps enhance the values of belongingness. It provides educational opportunities with recreational aspects that raise awareness about the significance of heritage and local culture and promotes sustainable behaviors relevant to natural and non-natural local environments.
Afifi believes that the contribution of tourism to community development lies in the urban development of communities and consequent acceleration the development of infrastructure. It also entails the acquisition of new knowledge and languages as a result of direct work with foreign visitors.
He added: “tourism is also one of the main sectors in the world in terms of employment. It is a labor-intensive sector, meaning that raising the level of services requires hiring more people, unlike some other sectors, such as agriculture or logistics, whereby the concept of modernity is linked to an increase in dependence on machinery.”
Regarding the concomitant negative effects, Al-Busaidi said: “There are some aspects that hinder the achievement of sustainable tourism goals. These include: the increase in foreign labor force, a shortage of Omanis with appropriate training in sustainable practices in tourism a lack in investments in tourist management of heritage and environmental sites, excessive consumption of environmental resources by community members and visitors, changing the waterways like wadis, and changing the horizontal space of the area due to urban activity.”
Al-Busaidi added: "The growth of this sector may represent a threat to the traditional lifestyle of the community, especially with the lack of awareness of how to invest in it, as this, coupled with a pursuit of easy profits may cause the destruction of traditional homes and heritage. It may also trigger the spread of some inappropriate behaviors, such as tourists wearing indecent clothes, taking pictures without permission, and camping in inhabited places. The wrong restoration and rehabilitation of some historical buildings and traditional homes also accompanies this growth.”
In order to enhance the role of tourism in achieving the sustainable development goals for the local population and minimizing the negative impacts, Afifi appealed to the community to adhere to the foundations of sustainable development, not only at the strategic level, but also at the level of awareness to improve practices in domestic tourism. This includes preserving the environment, encouraging greater engagement in tourism investment, and understanding and observing customs and traditions.
Al-Mahrazi emphasized that: “Cultural and archaeological sites should become tourist-educational sites that could contribute to their own preservation, and create educational environments that are fun. From an economic point of view, the local population should be enabled to work directly in the tourism sector through training programs on how to provide integrated services to visitors; this would reflects positively on the sustainability of the environment and tourism markets.”
He added: "It is important to take care of natural environments, market them, and benefit from them economically and culturally; it is also necessary to develop systems that help preserve them."
On the one hand, Al Balushi stressed the need to optimally deal with tourism through sustainable planning, based on strategic studies, by relying on researchers specialized in the field of sustainable tourism. She added that it is important to define the identity of Oman as a tourist destination and promote it regionally and globally: “We should provide proper funding for tourism projects in the Sultanate to ensure their sustainability, encourage entrepreneurship and innovation by providing the necessary facilities, and create sustainable consumption and production patterns.”
Al-Busaidi hoped that the authorities regulate the ownership of lands located in tourist sites, the nature of their uses, and permitted activities to limit illegal holdings. He called for managing natural reserves and vegetation in an orderly and responsible manner, determining the absorptive capacity of sites, allocating areas for activities and camping, and having guiding instructions in place. Omani investors and craftsmen should be supported, together with their crafts, such as the manufacture of sticks, weaving, silverware, pottery, and palm fronds.
He concluded his remarks by saying: “To advance tourism, it is necessary to develop infrastructure, facilities and services in designated areas, develop transport services to reduce traffic congestion, enhance historical sites and traditional home communities and invest them as inns, cafes and exhibitions to contribute to enriching the tourist experiences with opportunities to obtain financial returns that could, in turn, be invested in maintenance, operation, development, and employment.”