Oman bounces back after COVID-19 with tourism surge

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Oman is well on the way to boosting its national economy and becoming less dependent on oil revenues as the tourism bounces back from COVID-19 continues at pace.

The annual Khareef season has drawn to a close with visitor numbers revealing the region remains as popular as ever with more than 400,000 visitors to Salah Airport since June, according to airport official figures.

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Weekly flights have grown to total 195 arrivals and departures, as Oman’s tourism industry sets out on a path to earn more than 9 billion rials ($22.5 billion) a year by 2040.

Dhofar is the prime tourist destination during monsoon season that runs from June until September, due to its unique climate and topography.

Khareef Salalah was voted the best Arab tourist destination in 2022 at the Second Arab Forum for Tourism and Heritage, a draw for tourists because of its reputation as unspoiled destination in the south of Oman in the ‘green’ Dhofar region.

The Government of Oman issued a strategic mandate to increase the number of visitors to the country, from 3.3m in 2017 to 11.7m by 2040.

They are doing this through an approximate investment of $51 billion, with Dhofar being earmarked as a key location on investment.

An hour drive from Salalah airport is Hinu Bay in the southwest of Oman.

The recently-opened luxury hotel Alila Hinu Bay is one of the newest jewels in the crown of southern Oman’s tourism offerings. (Supplied)
The recently-opened luxury hotel Alila Hinu Bay is one of the newest jewels in the crown of southern Oman’s tourism offerings. (Supplied)

The Khareef season, that brings monsoon rains to transform the desert landscape into lush greenery with waterfalls and wadis, is peak travel time but tourists are flocking year round to this corner of the Dhofar province.

Near the sleepy fishing village of Mirbat lies recently-opened luxury hotel Alila Hinu Bay.

It is one of the newest jewels in the crown of southern Oman’s tourism offerings.

They too are welcoming Oman’s tourism surge.

Juan Paolo Alfonso, General Manager of Alila Hinu Bay, said, the hotel had been seeing a steady influx of tourists since they opened their doors to the public in 2021.

“Offering the best of both worlds, the resort flourishes in both marine life and nature reserves. Located between Jabal Samhan and the Arabian Sea, our eco-luxury resort is a nature lovers’ paradise, boasting the richest historical and cultural settings in the coastal town of Mirbat, in Dhofar governorate.”

The hotel says, with scenery more akin to the Scottish highlands or Malaysia forests than a typical Middle Eastern landscape, Salalah and the surrounding area is a unique travel spot for visitors from across the region.

The recently-opened luxury hotel Alila Hinu Bay is one of the newest jewels in the crown of southern Oman’s tourism offerings. (Supplied)
The recently-opened luxury hotel Alila Hinu Bay is one of the newest jewels in the crown of southern Oman’s tourism offerings. (Supplied)

The unique non-migratory population of humpback whales in the Arabian Sea are often spotted from June to October, while common dolphins are present year round, often frolicking in the surf close to the hotel’s private beach, making the spot a pull for tourists.

Private cabanas upon a hilltop terrace for a candlelit meal under a thousand stars, or an exclusive yoga session overlooking the crystal clear waters below only increase the feeling of space this hotel has to offer.

And in an area historically rich as a key trading point for Frankincense, the rich resin extracted from trees in the Dhofar mountains, there is much to learn in the setting of this sprawling, spacious retreat, free from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life.

With its adoption of ‘EarthCheck’ operating standards, the hotel integrates seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

Often draped in a blanket of mist, and light drizzle in the summer months, its mountains and valleys make a welcome alternative to the scorching desert sun with cooler temperatures of around 25C during Khareef, the Arabic name for Autumn.

The season officially begins on June 21, and continues into September.

The Frankincense Route

The hotel has a rich story to tell and uses Frankincense to bring that story to life.

The aromatic resin derived from the bark of the Boswellia tree is known for its restorative powers and healing properties, with Oman proud of its integration into the nation’s heritage and culture.

Nearby is the ancient port of Khor Rori, once used to transport Frankincense out of the Arabian Sea, through Egypt and across the Mediterranean into the trade markets of Europe.

At Alila Hinu Bay, that is taken a step further where the story is told of how historical figures Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and Lawrence of Arabia once walked the spice trail through the Dhofar region.

From the menus inside The Orchard Restaurant and SeaSalt bar, the hotel’s signature massage at Spa Alila and the interactive exhibition provided by the Ojar parfumerie - each is inspired by the cultural significance of the Frankincense Route.

Private smelling sessions can be arranged at the hotel to sample a selection of Ojar scents inspired by the region, and developed by Omani entrepreneur Sheikha Hind Bahwan.

Hotel restaurant menus transport guests on an epicurean voyage with carefully selected, handcrafted dishes such as shuwa spiced Lamb rack with Omani dates and sandalwood-smoke, or bhugasa with Frankincense cream, rose petals and cardamom.

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