On the cusp of change

Through a solid partnership with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, Muriya has succeeded in transforming Salalah into a year-round tourism destination, as opposed to a seasonal destination during the months of Khareef. Excerpt from an interview with CEO, Ahmed Dabbous

The National Tourism Strategy 2040 is looking to double the number of international visitors to 5 million, create 500,000 job opportunities and increase the contribution of tourism sector to 10 per cent of GDP. How is Muriya, one of Oman’s leading real estate and tourism developers, going to contribute to achieve these objectives?

With over ten years of solid presence and almost 1000 hotel rooms opened between both our Hawana Salalah and Jebel Sifah destinations, Muriya takes pride in being the largest single private sector contributor to four and five-star hotels in the last five years.

Our efforts extended beyond benefitting our own destinations. We are not only building hotel rooms to expand Oman’s tourism sector, but through a solid partnership with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, we have succeeded in transforming Salalah into a year-round tourism destination, as opposed to a seasonal destination that was primarily an attraction to Gulf citizens during the months of Khareef.

Tourism in Salalah during winter was rather small and limited. Through our fruitful relations with international tour operators, Muriya has helped attract direct as well as indirect flights from Europe, where in the coming season we will have an increase to nine weekly flights coming from European countries, primarily Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, France and Russia. That didn’t exist five years ago, and we are continually exerting efforts to introduce Salalah as a tourism destination to new European markets, as seen with new French and Russian tourism in 2018.

This influx of European tourists is not only benefitting the 900+ hotel rooms in our Hawana Salalah destination, but more than half of those flights that we started negotiations with are carrying tourists to other 4 and 5-star hotels in Salalah. In light of this, the hotel capacity in Salalah is continually expanding and improving in the standard of offerings. As such, we are continuously contributing to the overall tourism growth of Salalah at large.

The strong, uninterrupted growth in tourism which Salalah has enjoyed year-on-year is a clear indicator that our efforts are bearing fruit, spurring job creation, creating opportunities for SMEs and empowering local communities with the economic benefits the sector has delivered. Our projects due to their developmental nature, are contributing to job creation well beyond the direct employment within our companies and hotels. Omani entrepreneurs, armed with smart ideas, are developing flourishing medium size businesses in our projects. As we continue to grow, we look forward to adding more local SME partnerships and helping the growth of existing ones.

Could you give us an overview of Muriya’s investments for developing the various tourism projects in Muscat and Salalah?

Our focus is largely on investing in the Sultanate and supporting its growth into a major hub for tourism in the MENA region. That has been our target from the outset and through the $650mn we have invested, we are continually striving to work alongside Oman’s government.

Needless to mention that this progress, and continued financial investment by our shareholders, Orascom Development Holding and OMRAN, occurred during a difficult international economic climate, which witnessed the economic crisis, the Arab Spring and the regional oil crisis. This has made Muriya one of the few investors in Oman’s tourism that continued to invest during these difficult times. For us to succeed in continuing to achieve is in itself something that we are proud of. Our investments have enabled us to operate 1000 hotel rooms, welcome hundreds of thousands of hotel guests annually, and empower thousands of direct and indirect jobs that continue to grow with the growth of our tourism destinations.

What are the major challenges facing Oman’s tourism sector?

Oman’s government has been following a strategic diversification plan, something that Muriya has been committed to since our establishment. Following this vision, Oman’s infrastructure, innovation and investment in tourism, has, and will continue to reach new heights, and the government’s role is a fundamental pillar of the private sector’s success in catering to the burgeoning tourism industry. As such we are confident that Oman’s government will continue efforts in ensuring that the tourist experience is up to par with international tourism destinations from the onset, including visa issuing, flight bookings, on-arrival airport experiences and infrastructure support.

What is Muriya’s future outlook?

We are adding an additional 175 hotel rooms in Hawana Salalah by the end of 2018. Additionally there are sub-developers and investors who believe in the success of our destinations and are investing in the tourism offerings of our projects. On the real estate front, we are launching new residential neighbourhoods in both our Hawana Salalah and Jebel Sifah projects.

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