Ocean Blue International was founded in 2007. Over the last five years, the company has established itself as a leading sea-tourism operator in the sultanate.
Its chairperson and managing director, Clara Zawawi, recently won the gold prize in the 'Tourism Ambassador of the Year' category at the Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards, while the company bagged the 'Sustainable Tourism Ambassador' award.
In an interview to Muscat Daily, Clara speaks about her achievements, the company’s strategy and performance and the outlook for Oman’s tourism industry.
You recently won a gold at the Travelex awards. What does this recognition mean for you and your company?
First, I think it is an enormous recognition. We are so proud to be recognised for the work that we have done in the last five years. This recognition comes with more responsibilities: To maintain the quality of services, to expand the business and to continue offering new and exiting experiences.
Now I feel the huge responsibility to keep on doing better and to work with the Ministry of Tourism to help and promote the industry in the sultanate.
How well has the company's business flourished in the last five years?
We started with just two small fishing boats. Now, we have four charter boats in our fleet, which include the SY Azzura catamaran, which was specifically designed for Omani conditions, and the Diva, a fun-boat that can be used for everything from fishing to water sports.
We have also opened the ‘Bait al Bilad' in Qantab Village. The ‘Bait al Bilad’ concept is designed to give an authentic Omani village experience with all the comforts expected by our international and local guests. We also do private catering.
So the whole business has grown. We have had around 30 per cent year-on-year growth in sales over the last five years and are expecting the same growth in revenue this year as well.
What are the strategies that have helped the firm become a leading player in the sultanate's tourism sector?
As a business, our core strength is that we are committed to the development of Oman’s tourism industry and to provide a world-class experience. We emphasise on quality right from the beginning.
One of my motivating factors is the recognition that Oman is an expensive destination in terms of hotels as there are very good quality hotels. We wanted to make sure that when tourists stepped out from hotels to experience the sea they get the highest levels of quality. Naturally, I spent a lot of energy and focused on that idea.
I believe the tourism ambassador award is a recognition of the fact that we actually want to deliver services and experiences at extremely high standards outside the hotels.
I am also really proud of the sustainability award for the company. From the beginning we have worked hard to make sure that our operations are very clean and green. We understand the value of our environment.
What are the key essentials to a successful marine-tourism business?
Number one is a clean and accessible marine environment. We would not have had our business, if not for Bandar Khairan. Bandar Khairan as a natural resource is mind blowing and totally world class.
The fact that Bandar Khairan is just 45 minutes slow sailing from Oman Dive Center is a gift for us.
So we have fantastic natural resources at our doorsteps. We conduct dolphin-watching trips, with the chance to see hundreds of dolphins at close quarters. So, natural resources are totally essential for a marine-tourism business.
Tourism is making its presence felt across the sultanate. What is your outlook for the sector? Can it become a significant source of national income?
The sector has to contribute to the national economy. It is a very important driver in terms of building Oman’s image overseas. In my view, we need to differentiate between Oman and the other Gulf countries. I believe the Ministry of Tourism has taken this up. We have a very different culture and environment in Oman compared with the other regional countries. I think the sultanate has a very bright future in tourism, especially in terms of providing more jobs and contributing to the economy.
Oman competes with many other tourism destinations in the world. How should we promote the sultanate as a leading destination?
From my experience I know that a single most important thing about Oman is that it is very uncrowded and clean, unlike many other sea-tourism destinations in the world.
In terms of our marketing strategy, we spend a lot on search-engine optimisation and attend international shows as much as we can. We focus on online marketing and work with all of the tour companies in Oman. We have quite a unique product to offer and we get a lot of business on our own.
What are the main markets that you focus on most to attract tourists to Oman?
We are focusing on India and have had a lot of success in that market. India is full of wealthy people and is a potential market. We have done a lot of marketing and have realised that Indians prefer clean-marine environments and making short trips.