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Tourism sector eyes foreign travellers to bounce back

24 Nov 2021

Muscat – With the opening of airports around the world and arrival of international tourists, the hospitality sector in Oman is looking forward to a promising winter season. The recovery, however, is dependent on an improvement in the COVID-19 situation in Europe from where the local hospitality industry is expecting visitors in sizeable numbers.

Towards the end of the 2020 winter season, the sector faced numerous challenges, including closure of airports and inter-city movement restrictions in the first phase of lockdowns in Oman.

Domestic tourists turned saviour

Jebel Shams Resort saw better business in the summer of 2020 than pre-pandemic times, its resort manager Said al Khatri claimed. “Closure of international travel and Salalah, during khareef, left few options for domestic tourists and, surprisingly, it worked in our favour.”

Properties operating in deserts suspend operations between May and September, but owing to the pandemic last year, these were compelled to close in March. Luckily when they reopened for the winter season in October, they saw good business.

“We slashed our rates, keeping in mind the financial constraints resulting from the pandemic. It helped attract domestic tourists. However, we have noticed a drop in domestic tourists this winter season,” said V S Abhijit, resort manager of Thousand Nights Camp.

Shangri-La Muscat had to close its entire complex from April 2020 till July 2020. While it reopened Shangri-La Barr al Jissah on July 31 with limited food and beverage operations, Shangri-La Al Husn still remains closed. “We are planning to reopen the property in January 2022 with a series of new initiatives,” said René D Egle, area general manager of Shangri-La Resorts Muscat.

According to Egle, last year was about activating survival mode, pushing boundaries and going out to the market with innovative and relevant ideas.

Vijay Handa, area GM for Omran’s cluster of properties, attributes the group’s survival to domestic tourism. “Now GCC countries are also open, so things are improving and the scenario is positive. We understand the spending capacity of domestic tourists due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we are still running special packages to attract local tourists.”

Occupancy vs revenue

Handa informed that good occupancy does not always convert to good revenue, and international bookings are made at least a year in advance. In his estimation, returning to pre-pandemic rates will take time. “I am hoping that by 2023, the hospitality sector will be able to go back to pre-pandemic rates.”

Shangri-La’s Egle too believes it will take time for the hotel industry to go back to pre-pandemic levels. “We are currently ramping up towards business recovery, so our room rates are not fully back yet to pre-pandemic levels.”

Thousand Nights Camp has reverted to its pre-pandemic rates but response from domestic market is “a bit slow”. “To attract the domestic market, we will place some offers soon but the overall response is picking up,” Abhijit said.

Fourth wave of COVID-19 in Europe

Abhijit’s immediate concern is the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit Europe. It has already resulted in some cancellations. “If the situation doesn’t improve in Europe, it will be very bad for our sector,” he said with his fingers crossed.

“We hope the rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe settles soon, as this is a risk that will impact the entire world, not only us. Since Oman is relying heavily on the European market, this surge might slow down our recovery pace. We are currently sold out for the festive period and January onwards looks promising,” said Rene.

Handa describes the current condition as “very good and the overall scenario quite rosy but our only worry is the fourth wave of the pandemic hitting Europe”.

Jebel Shams Resort’s Khatri too is hopeful of good business from the European market and has already welcomed tourist from Germany, France and Netherlands.

(Text by Syed Fasiuddin)

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