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Tourism sector feels the heat amid concerns

18 Mar 2020

While the virus has hit many countries hard, even shutting down some cities, the situation is still not that dire in Oman. In an effort to keep it that way and to control the spread of the virus, the Omani government and other governments around the world, have put certain restrictions in place, most of which have had a direct impact on the tourism industry. 

One such example, is the Ministry of Heritage and Culture’s (MHC) decision to close down all museums, castles and forts in the country as a precautionary measure.  

According to Ahmed Sultan al Yaarubi, CEO of Bawader International, Nizwa Fort has seen a 40 per cent decline in visitors in the first half of March alone.  Now that the ministry has ordered the shutdown of forts, Yaarubi predicts a big impact not only on the fort, but on shops and restaurants in the area as well. 

“The closure of Nizwa Fort will also impact the shops and places that depend on the tourists coming in to see the fort. The impact of this will be huge,” he said. 

Independent tour guides are also feeling the heat, as they have been forced to cancel upcoming trips seeing as their clients will not be able to make it into the country due to newly introduced visa and travel restrictions. 

Abdullah al Harthy, a licensed tour guide who conducts his tours in French, said that he and many touristic sites in Oman, have been strongly impacted due to the pandemic. “It is not just me who has been impacted. Many touristic sites that I regularly take my clients to have also been impacted. Many of the places are empty. Some camps in Sharqiyah Sands and even the fort in Nizwa has closed,” he told Muscat Daily. 

According to Chris Heywood, director of Nomad Tours, tour companies in Oman have suffered the effects of the outbreak.  

The company began detecting a drop in bookings as the virus began to spread in early February, and following the March 15 alert that no more visas would be issued, the company lost all of its bookings as they cater to an international market. 

Travel agencies in the country have also seen a significant drop in sales, said Aisha Albattashi, a ticketing agent at Universal Travel and Tourism. 

“As soon as they started suspending flights, we saw a huge drop in sales. We get clients from Cairo, GCC countries, Lebanon, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, China, Italy, and Iran. When travel restrictions were put in place for Iran, we lost a lot because that was a big market for us,” she said. 

Despite the crisis that is taking place in the tourism industry, Sariya al Ismili, acting director of marketing at Oman Tourism College, remained relatively positive, saying that hard work must be put in to bounce back from this situation. 

“We started off the year hoping that this is the decade for tourism to boom from sports tourism and more! With embargoes and suspension of flights, it’s an all-round domino effect. In Oman, we are putting all our efforts to make tourism the direction of our beloved country, with more Omanis and females playing an active role in achieving this. Now we have to work ten times harder,” she said.  

(Contributed by Liyana al Abdulsalam) 

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