The Rise in Oman’s Eco-Tourism
Words by Melanie Groves
Eco-tourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” The concept was born in the 1970’s and has been growing quickly due to the global environmental movement. Eco-tourism is touted to benefit local communities as well as aid environmental and cultural conservation.
The Sultanate of Oman is rumoured to be one of the best destinations for tourists in the Arabian Peninsula. It boasts a strong history of Bedouin traditions, along with extraordinary forts and architecture. Along with the bazaars that is ‘Arabian Nights’ come to life, Oman also has extensive natural beauty. Oman’s landscapes have incredible diversity- from sand dune deserts to lush mountain oases, lakes, caves, canyons and forests. The 1,700 kilometres of beach and coastline lends itself to dive enthusiasts and beach lovers.
“Biological and cultural diversity”
These natural riches are what inspired a strong insurgence of eco-tourism in Oman. Biological and cultural diversity had long been a strong drawcard for travellers, but eco-tourism was given an extra boost when in 2011 a joint venture between developers and investors from Oman and Qatar moved forwards with an eco-themed project covering a total of 1.8 million square metres of five-star hotels and resorts, along with wildlife, cultural and retail elements.
“UNESCO’S World Natural and Cultural Heritage Register”
Promoting eco-tourism in countries such as Oman is vital when considering the uniqueness and the vulnerability of the wildlife and their ecosystems. Oman is home to numerous varieties of wildlife, including an endangered species of Arabian oryx (a type of antelope). Already Oman has created natural reserves for animals such as the leopards, oryx, gazelle, ibex, desert fox and wild cats, and has established a reserve that has been recognised on UNESCO’S World Natural and Cultural Heritage Register.
The focus on eco-tourism is also benefiting Oman’s economy. According to a 2012 study by the UN World Tourism Organisation, Oman’s international tourism revenue for the year earned Oman over 1 billion dollars; a first for the country. The high demand on the tourism sector has led to these increased developments, with the at the time minister for tourism Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad al Mehrzi saying that the development of tourist sectors must “take into account community and environmental values.” The sustainable approach to tourism is boosting Oman’s credibility, international market competitiveness and is also aiming to provide more sustainable jobs across the country.
“their unique and rare environment”
Many countries have not utilised their natural resources to be both sustainable and benefitting the economy. It has long been assumed that environmental sustainability does not go hand in hand with economic growth; however Oman is paving the way to show a secure future for their unique and rare environment, to the added benefit of their community and economy.