x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Salalah's big play for tourism expansion

The Salalah Beach project is expected to play a major role in boosting tourism in Oman's second-largest city, which is relatively underdeveloped.

SALALAH // On the southern Omani coastline in Salalah a dense mist hangs over a beach lined with palm trees during the start of the monsoon season.

Dozens of workers are building villas and apartments, and creating large basins in the land that will eventually become marinas.

Ultimately, the sprawling tourism project is to have five luxury resorts, including a Club Med, a Moevenpick hotel and a property run by Abu Dhabi's Rotana Hotel Management.

The project is expected to play a major role in boosting tourism in Salalah, Oman's second-largest city, which is relatively underdeveloped. It has only three upmarket hotels: a Hilton, a Crowne Plaza and a Marriott that opened last year.

The Marriott resort is partly owned by Qatar National Hotels as part of a separate, 1 billion rial (Dh9.54bn) tourism and property development.

The Salalah Beach project is being built by the Egyptian company Orascom Development in a joint venture with Omran, the Omani government's tourism development and investment agency.

Orascom owns 70 per cent of the project, called Muriya Tourism Development, and Omran has the remaining 30 per cent.

"The business will increase a lot in the next five to 10 years," said Mussallam Hassan, a tour guide in Salalah. "We're still growing."

But work on Salalah Beach has evidently been much slower than originally planned. The Moevenpick hotel was scheduled to open last year, but work on that project has barely started.

The Moevenpick and the Club Med property are not expected to open for another two years. The Rotana building is already in place and the hotel is scheduled to open next year. There will also be a golf course and shops as part of the 950-hectare project, which is envisaged as an integrated town.

Taha Karamat, a sales associate at the project, said 90 per cent of the 186 apartments in the first phase had already been sold. Handing over of apartments is expected to begin by the end of this year.

"A two-bedroom apartment is going for about 150,000 Oman rials," Mr Karamat said.

Otherwise, most of the development remains a construction site, however.

The city of Salalah, not far from Oman's border with Yemen, is in the southern region of Dhofar.

Locals and many other Gulf travellers, including Emiratis, head to Salalah during the monsoon because of the area's greenery and agreeable tropical conditions. A tourism festival runs during the monsoon.

During the wet season, "99 per cent of the tourists are from the GCC", said Mr Hassan, the tour guide.

Outside of this rainy, foggy period, hoteliers say, the Dhofar area is popular with Europeans who come for diving and historical attractions including the archaeological excavation of an ancient civilisation and a museum detailing the history of the region's frankincense trade, with dozens of ancient artefacts.

Much of the growth of tourism in Salalah will depend on more direct flights coming into the area, hotelier say.

A new terminal should be completed at Salalah Airport by 2014, increasing the airport's annual passenger capacity to 1 million, according to the Oman Airports Management Company.

rbundhun@thenational.ae