Muscat Bay is a fully-fledged tourism complex covering 2.2 million square metres facing the waterfront of the Gulf of Oman, surrounded by the tall mountainscapes, and offering a premium level of privacy to its residents. The project is developed in partnership with Omran and Saraya Holdings Oman. Upon its completion, Muscat Bay will include 435 residences spread across five free-holding residential areas. It will also include two five-star hotels run by the globally renowned luxury hotel chain, Jumeirah Group. The project will bring together world-class restaurants, cafes, a supermarket and gym for the residents, and retail shops at the heart of Muscat Bay. In a freewheeling chat with OER, Sheikh Hamood Al Hosni, CEO, speaks about the current status of the project and the latest trends in Oman’s tourism and allied sectors.
Please update us on the current status of Muscat Bay project? What are the recent developments and key milestones?
Muscat Bay is, as you see it, an intimate natural oasis, extending over 2.2 metres square with a sea front view surrounded by the majestic Al Hajar mountain range. Situated in this natural cove are a group of exclusive luxury homes, beginning with apartments of varying sizes and views, unique duplexes, a variety of villas in Zaha facing the sea and the community park, as well as the one-of-a-kind villas located on the Nameer island surrounded by the lagoon. Last but not least, we have the extravagant hill-top Wajd villas that overlooks one of the most beautiful bays in the region.
The phase 1 of the project is almost nearing the completion. All the residential units are 100 per cent ready for delivery. The construction of the various amenities such as groceries, clinics and pharmacies is well in progress, and they are expected to be launched in a few months’ time.
We have recently launched Parkland, a gathering point for members of the community to host social and cultural activities year-round. Parkland is the perfect extension to the community lifestyle that we have created, which unites our various real estate offerings by providing a range of people-centric facilities, catering to both fitness and leisure activities. The 18,345 square metre park, with 9,769 sqm of covered grass area, includes two swimming pools, one for adults and one for children and hosts a variety of flora and fauna. The park land will be linked to a Village Square which comprises retail shopping areas and some outdoor spaces. The Village Square will be completed by next year. All these amenities ensure that those who live in the community will have all the facilities next door to them.
When are the two five-star hotels expected to be operational?
We have two hotels coming up at Muscat Bay. The first one is expected to have a soft opening by the end of 2019, and will be fully operational by the first quarter of 2020. Construction of the second hotel will begin in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the project is expected to be completed in 2021. This will mark the end of phase 1. The first hotel will have 206 keys while the second will have about 74 and all rooms will be sea-facing.
When is the whole project expected to be completed?
The whole phase 1 is expected to be completed by 2020, except for the second hotel which will be open by 2021.
We will start working on the phase 2 from 2021 onwards once phase one is over. It will take another two to three years for the completion of phase 2. In phase 2, we will be adding more residential units. Since we will have all the amenities and hospitality infrastructure facilities in place by the end of phase 1, our focus in phase 2 will be on building additional residential units.
Currently we are fully concentrating on phase 1 of the project. We are focused on giving our maximum care and services to the people living in the community.
How is the demand form the market, especially in the current market situation?
Despite the challenging economic situation, we are getting an exciting response from the market. A lot of prospective customers are walking in to see the project and, in addition, we are getting a lot of inquiries from outside Oman.
According to you, how is Oman’s ITC sector shaping up? Can you talk about the prospects and the challenges in the sector?
We cannot talk about the ITC sector in isolation from the developments in allied sectors such as aviation, tourism and hospitality as well as the overall economic development in Oman. All economic sectors are supporting one another. Several key infrastructure, aviation and hospitality projects that opened recently such as Muscat International Airport, the various ports and hotels have contributed significantly to improving Oman’s tourism landscape. They all have added to Oman’s brand value as a favourable tourism and investment destination. This all bodes well for the ITC projects in the country. There has been a constant increase in international demand. We are getting inquiries from potential buyers of all nationalities.
Talking about the challenges, we request the authorities to further streamline the licensing processes for the ITCs in Oman. That is very important. As ITC developer, we have to take permits from the various authorities and it’s a very time-consuming process. But since all these licenses are linked to one other, the authorities can introduce a comprehensive licensing system to make it easier for us. We hope the authorities concerned can look into it.
Collaboration among the ITC developers in Oman is also very important for promoting their projects outside the Sultanate. It requires a lot of investments to promote the projects outside Oman as it involves conducting large exhibitions in foreign countries. However, ITCs in Oman can put their hands together to market Oman’s iconic projects all over the world.
In order to promote tourism and attract more tourists to the country, we need as much infrastructure and hospitality facilities as possible. When we bring more international chains to Oman, the country will become more known among international visitors. At this juncture, when Oman is focusing on the tourism sector as a key sector for economic diversification, I feel developing more hotels is essential. That will attract more tourists to the country. We should not wait for the tourists to come as they will not arrive until and unless they have the basic infrastructure in place.
However, the current drop in the occupancy rates in Oman can be attributed to the market situation in the region. The tourism sector in the region is susceptible to the political and economic situation in the region. But I believe things will change and there will be an economic rebound soon and by that time when the tourism sector retains its rhythm, we will be ready with the necessary infrastructure catering to the future demands in the sector.
According to the Ministry of Tourism statistics, the number of tourist coming to Oman is increasing exponentially. There is a huge percentage of increase every year. This is a very good trend. Oman is an attractive destination for tourists and investors. It’s a safe and stable country politically; and legally speaking, we have clear rules and regulations in place for all sectors. Therefore our outlook is very positive. The market is promising and the rebound will happen soon.
Muhammed Nafie is an Assistant Editor at Oman Economic Review.