Oman’s niche offerings, robust marketing could create a pull for the outbound

Given that Oman’s reputation as a wedding destination has risen in the last few years, and its strong adventure based activity segment has an attraction for young Indians, its share of Indian outbound could see a substantial growth in the coming months and years.

Lubaina Sheerazi - Oman1

Strategically located at the south-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf – flanked by UAE in the north-east, Saudi Arabia in the west and Yemen in the south-east – Oman is one of the fast emerging tourism destinations in the Middle East.  Despite a major producer of oil, its economy has relatively diversified in the last few years; tourism sector, meanwhile, remains the fastest growing industry for Oman. As per the data released by the Ministry of Tourism, the country has seen a steady rise in inbound in the last half a decade. With a percent change of 11.8 percent, Oman received 1.57 million visitors in 2014, compared to 1.40 million in 2013. In terms of region specific inbound, the country had received maximum number of tourists from the GCC Region – it comprises of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia among others. It is followed by the influx from Asia and Europe.

Lubaina Sheerazi, India Representative, Ministry of Tourism, Oman shared her understanding of nation’s tourism offerings, stating that Oman was not a budget destination and neither was a mass tourist destination. “People who visit Oman come purely for the bliss of enjoying a rustic Arabian country that is still true to its roots. The traveller who comes to Oman is aware of its culture and heritage,” she said. Noting that a majority of the inbound had decent global exposure and explored Oman for at least 4-5 days, she told us that different regions in Oman were popular for different activities amongst travellers. “Muscat, the capital city is popular for dolphin watching, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muttrah Souk; Daymaniyat Islands is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving; Nizwa is famous for the fort and cultural walks while Jabal Shams is famous for hiking and trekking trips; quad biking, dune bashing and desert camping can be experienced in Sharqiyah Sands and Ras Al Jinz is famous for turtle watching,” she elaborated on the different experiences that a tourist could soak in. She further added that, now, the focus was on marketing campaigns aimed at promoting experiences which included nature or culture related activities. “In most of our outdoor or advertising campaigns, the communication is about experiencing a destination like Oman rather than just visiting it,” she stressed.

Betting on Oman’s greater assertion, in the coming years, as a tourism destination in the region, she told us that “we think in the future years, Oman will be among the most visited destination in the Middle East.” Oman’s prime focus in 2016 will continue to be promoting itself as a FIT destination in the leisure segment. MICE, too, was an upcoming segment, she shared. “We are anticipating the opening of Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC) in 2017. The new Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre will provide state-of-the-art facilities and convert Oman into a competitive venue for major global and regional events,” she said, sharing that the development would enable Oman to host major meetings, incentive, conventions and exhibitions events. Given that there, already, were established markets like Singapore and Busan, their foray was not going to be without challenges. Lubaina, however, clarified that Oman was not a mass destination or looking at quantity. “We are a niche destination focused on attracting quality travellers. In that sense, even for MICE we prefer to have quality business travelers and incentive groups visiting us rather than becoming a destination for all kinds of MICE movements. I wouldn’t like to compare Oman with any of the other destinations in the region as each destination offers something unique and what Oman offers cannot be replicated by any other destination,” she said.

She further argued that one of the major upcoming markets for them was destined to be India. “By 2020, India is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group. This is a fast growing segment of Indian travellers – mostly rich, hailing from India’s larger cities, who have an appetite for adventure. For such a segment, Oman is of great value as it offers several adventure activities to choose from,” she argued. What justifies her enthusiasm about India can be better summed up by the fact that it registered a 17% increase in Indian arrivals in 2015, as compared to 2014. “India is a very important emerging source market for Oman. We have seen a positive increase in the number of tourist arrivals from India to Oman over the years. Since it’s a short haul destination from India, Oman is becoming popular with the outbound tourists from India,” she stressed.www By her own admission, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai were their main source markets, besides receiving tourists from Tier-2 markets like Hyderabad, Ahmadabad and Pune that they had ventured into.

Good air-connectivity works to our advantage; would focus on wedding segment through enhanced outreach

What made India important for Oman was the constant drive of a fast emerging breed of travelers who constantly seek a new and a niche destination, felt Lubaina. She reasoned that Oman had a lot to offer in terms of culture, heritage and adventure activities. “In the Indian market, our main strategy has been to build awareness about the destination by providing detailed information and product knowledge to the travel trade industry. We are promoting the cultural heritage and natural diversity of Oman in India,” she described Oman’s strategy for stronger engagement in the Indian market. Adding that their engagement spanned from conducting road shows, participating in trade events and exhibitions to giving training sessions to trade agents, she told us “now we want to build the brand ‘Oman’ as a perfect short-haul holiday getaway.”

Besides showcasing culture and natural diversity, destination weddings, too, had been a successful vertical for them, we were told. “We will continue to engage wedding planners by updating them about our offerings and showcase our nation to them through familiarization trips,” she added.

Given that Oman had a robust connectivity with major Indian cities, their strategy of attracting more Indians was with an advantage. “We are one of the well connected destinations from India. Oman Air currently flies from 11 Indian cities and will hopefully increase more connectivity. Airlines such as SpiceJet, Indigo, Air India, Air India Express and Jet Airways also fly direct to Muscat,” she said. Noting that Indians across the country would not face any problems travelling to Oman, she opined that better connectivity always lead to increase in tourist footfalls.

In terms of outreach, to deepen direct interface with the consumer, the tourism department has planned to engage with the consumer directly though branding and tactical promotions conducted jointly with the travel trade. She told us that they wanted, also, to increase their visibility and productivity in the travel trade through focus trainings- which included engaging in diverse mediums like online, offline, webinars, and participation in trade fairs, besides exhibitions and road shows in Tier II cities of India. “We will also engage in massive digital and social media presence through advertising and will explore possibilities of exposure on television to engage with the consumers directly,” said Lubaina.  Refereeing to their online outreach, she told us that, “in mid-2013, we launched our exclusive ‘Oman Tourism, India’ Facebook page which has over 85,000 likes, so far. We regularly engage with our fans on this page and provide them valuable information. We are also present on Instagram and Twitter on the handle ‘Oman Tourism India’.”

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