x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Travellers set sights on Oman

Just a short hop away, Oman's rugged mountains and lush oases are proving to be popular for Eid al Fitr breaks.

ABU DHABI // Just a short hop away, Oman's rugged mountains and lush oases are proving to be a popular pick for Eid al Fitr breaks this year, as holidaymakers try to make the most of their time off. Only an hour by air, Muscat has always been a popular choice for the holiday. The capital and the beaches of the Batinah coast remain in demand, but more adventurous destinations within the country are growing increasingly popular. "People know they have a four to five day window, so choose local, short breaks," said Nathan Adams, manager of Dnata Holidays. "Oman is a very big seller this year, but people are venturing to new areas of Oman."

Private sector workers this year have a two-day holiday, which is expected to fall on Oct 1-2, giving them an extended weekend break. Holiday packages to Oman's southern city of Salalah, famous for its frankincense, sandy beaches and lush greenery, are being snapped up, according Mr Adams. Salalah catches the monsoon rains and for centuries has provided a respite from the heat of the Gulf. Musandam, dubbed the "Norway of the Middle East" because of its rocky mountains that plunge into deep fjords, has also proved particularly popular. Just a few hours drive from Abu Dhabi, the peninsula is well-suited to those who do not want to travel too far. Holiday packages to Zighi Bay's Six Senses Hideaway in Musandam, which this year was ranked by Conde Naste Traveller magazine as one of the top 65 best new places to stay in the world, have sold well, Mr Adams said. Sri Lanka, which offers five-star resorts and a short flight, is also popular.

Those who have some extra time are venturing further afield. "Those that are taking an extra day or two off work are looking to Asia and Europe," said Mr Adams. "Beach holidays to Thailand and city breaks to European cities are selling well." As well as packages to Oman, Etihad Holidays said Malaysia was a hot destination this year, with holidays completely sold out. Last year the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board announced it wanted to boost the number of tourists visiting the South-east Asian country, and has been running promotions with the tagline "Malaysia Truly Asia" on UAE television stations.

Holidaymakers have been booking early to ensure they do not miss out on their desired destination. "One of the key trends for this year is that guests have been booking a little earlier as they are becoming more aware that to secure a holiday in peak periods like Eid they need to book in advance or they will miss out," an Etihad spokeswoman said. After a busier than usual Ramadan, tourist destinations throughout the UAE are looking forward to a further boost from Eid holidaymakers. Al Ain is always flooded with visitors over the festive season.

Many Emiratis in Abu Dhabi own holiday homes in the oasis city, which is humid and has green wadis and mountains. "We are completely booked out, we are having to turn people away," said Shahrzad Sadr, marketing executive at the 198-room Beach Rotana in Al Ain. "Al Ain is a family place, it's very quiet, you don't feel any traffic, the weather is better, that's why people like to come for Eid." Most guests are from the UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi, but Al Ain remains popular with visitors from the Gulf, Ms Sadr said.

New attractions in the UAE are also drawing those who do not want to venture too far afield. The Anatara Desert Islands Resort and Spa, on Sir Bani Yas island, opens on Oct 1 and is almost completely booked out for its first three nights. "Eid is a great boost for us, especially in light of this being our first weekend of welcoming guest to our paradise," said Andre Erasmus, general manager of Desert Islands Resort and Spa. "This has gone a long way to enable people to take the time off to explore the island."

lmorris@thenational.ae