|Port of Muscat (Wikimedia)|
According to ship agents in Oman, until February 14 this year, 129 cruise vessels had visited three different ports in Oman. And 99 more are scheduled to visit until June 6.
“Since the current season began in October last year, 75 calls were made in Muscat, 38 in Khasab and 16 in Salalah. And until June, when the current season came to an end, there will be 60 more calls in Muscat, 22 in Khasab and 17 in Salalah,” M C Jose, chief executive officer of Projects and Logistics Group at Khimji Ramdas, told the Times of Oman (TOO).
Anwar Ali Sultan, chairman of Wilhelmsen Towell Co LLC, told TOO that cruise tourism is picking up in Oman at a good pace.
“We are seeing a positive trend and a huge potential for growth too. Tourists see Oman as the safest place to visit in this region. Moreover, the exotic locations, which highlight Arab culture and heritage are unique to Oman,” Sultan said.
An official from Wilhelmsen said that for the first time Anthem of Seas, one the biggest cruise vessels launched recently, will come to Oman.
“She is the second ship in the Quantum class, which surpasses the earlier Freedom-class ships by over 14,000 gross tonnes (GT), becoming the second largest class of passenger ships after the Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships on a gross tonnage basis. The cruise ship has capacity for almost 5,000 passengers at a time, excluding some 1,600 crew members,” the official added.
Meanwhile, Jose said big vessels, such as the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth will call Muscat and Salalah this year, which will be a major attraction. According to Jose, cruise tourism in Oman has a huge potential and it should be treated as an important segment of the tourism industry sector.
“It can bring in a lot of employment opportunities to nationals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). A large number of four wheel drives, mini buses and 50-seater buses are required to transport passengers to different tourist spots in Oman. In addition to that, a large number of qualified tour guides with multi-lingual capabilities are also required in Oman,” Jose said.
“SME tour companies can be started by trained nationals. These companies can invest in vehicles with the base volume of tourists from cruise vessels. Once they establish their companies, they can also carter to the steady arrival of inbound tourists,” Jose added.
According to Jose, many tourists come back for a longer stay after their cruise holiday and hence the cruise industry should be treated as an important segment of the market tourism industry.
While talking about the challenges faced by the cruise tourism industry in Oman, Jose said cruise liners are constructing larger ships, with larger lengths and hence ports will have to be modernised with longer berths and marine equipment to safely handle these ships.
“The planned new waterfront facility at Port Sultan Qaboos is a great initiative and will give a boost to the cruise business. Muscat should have at least three berths that are 400 metres. The interest in Khasab is increasing year after year. An International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) compliant port with two berths is desirable. Sur can be an attractive location if a berthing facility is available. A dedicated cruise berth in Salalah is also desirable,” Jose added.
According to Oman’s government, OMR500 million has been set aside to transform the Port Sultan Qaboos into the region’s primary waterfront destination.
The project consists of four zones and the first phase is expected to be complete in 2019, Minister of Transport and Communications Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, said recently.
The first zone of the tourism-based mixed-use project will shape the waterfront’s heart and will consist of a fisherman wharf, a fish souq (market), a five-star marina hotel, a four-star family hotel, and a hotel operated by branded residential apartments and starter apartments for first time buyers.
Destination shopping, waterside restaurants and cafes, boutiques, offices, entertainment and cultural facilities, as well as super yacht and leisure boat marina will also be featured in the first zone.
Data released by National Centre of Statistics and Information (NCSI) revealed that from the beginning of 2015 until October, 101,000 cruise line tourists had visited Oman.
The top five countries from where cruise line tourists come were from Germany, Italy, the British Virgin Islands, the United Kingdom, and Northern Islands and Spain.