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Is lack of transparency in executing projects slowing progress?

25 Sep 2021 By OUR CORRESPONDENT

Muscat – As Oman embarks on a recovery path for the tourism sector following the COVID-19 pandemic, developing the sector should not be the responsibility of the government alone. Comprehensive development of any sector needs cooperation of all parties involved – private and public – calling for greater transparency and sharing of information.

At a meeting with tourism developers and the business community in Dhofar last month, H E Salim bin Mohammed al Mahrouqi, Minister of Heritage and Tourism, announced a tourism development plan for the governorate in order to bring the tourism sector back to pre-pandemic level as soon as possible.

According to H E Mahrouqi, to develop tourism destinations in Dhofar, the ministry is bracing to launch an investment management programme to the tune of RO6bn. The ministry’s ‘Comprehensive Tourism Development Plan’ was unveiled at the meeting with few details on feasibility, scope, source of investment or initiatives targeted.

The minister, however, did state that the plan was drafted in coordination with the Oman Vision 2040 follow-up office and that it has been allocated massive investments through initiatives of the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, Oman Investment Authority and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotions.

Would it not be better for the authorities before announcing figures running into billions of rials to provide details of how such big-ticket investment projects will be financed? There is also a need to make follow-up announcements on such projects, informing the public as well as those looking to invest, on the progress made.

Oman has the requisite characteristics of a premier tourist destination – a diverse natural environment, unspoiled beaches, breath-taking mountains and a wealth of historical sites, including UNESCO World Heritage sites – all of which help to make the country a truly unique destination in the Middle East. To exploit this potential to the fullest, the concerned authorities need to do a lot more to achieve results as well as fulfil expectations in a short period of time.

Many believe that the slow progress and lack of transparency in executing big-ticket projects as well as endless workshops affect implementation of these projects.

It is prudent to have a complete plan of action, broken down into minute details, before announcing big projects to the public. Also, clarity on how such financial targets can be achieved will build confidence among investors and the public.

In Muscat, tourism projects worth more than RO15bn are being studied even as others have been approved in the governorate. According to the authorities, this will allow a variety of options while simultaneously continuing to implement high-level luxury projects that are worthy of the capital, Muscat. However, since announcement of such projects, there has been no clarity or details.

Even though a number of key projects aimed at achieving the country’s ambitious goals are in various stages of development across the sultanate, it is not clear how some other projects like the proposed redevelopment of Port Sultan Qaboos, which is likely to benefit tourism and trade in Muttrah, are moving forward. There is need for more clarity and transparency on unfinished projects from the authorities concerned.

There are many hurdles that must be overcome if the sultanate wants to stake claim of being a top-class tourist destination. Aside from the need to enhance infrastructure, the sultanate also suffers a shortage of local skills in the tourism and hospitality industry, which needs to be addressed urgently.

The tourism sector has the potential of being the largest employer. A judicious approach towards educating and training national cadres to exploit the true potential of the sector will help solve the growing unemployment problem and also provide much needed impetus to the economy.

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