The corniche in the Mutrah district of Muscat. The sultanate's ports will benefit from US$15bn invested, in part to diversify the economy away from oil and gas exports.
The corniche in the Mutrah district of Muscat. The sultanate's ports will benefit from US$15bn invested, in part to diversify the economy away from oil and gas exports.

Oman breaks into a sprint



Development in the GCC country has for years proceeded more slowly than in its neighbours, but an ambitious plan is being implemented to modernise without marring the country's natural beauty. Ivan Gale reports Oman is pressing ahead with a multibillion-dollar modernisation of its aviation, tourism and industrial sectors while striving to maintain the country's natural beauty. The investments include more than US$2.5 billion (Dh9.18bn) of aircraft orders by Oman Air, several billion dollars worth of new airports across the country and in the capital, and more than $15bn of public and private investment at a new port and industrial zone.

The modernisation is intended to end the slow growth that has prevailed in Oman for decades while many of its Gulf neighbours have raced ahead. "Oman has been a sleeping giant for many, many years," says Peter Hill, the chief executive of Oman Air. "Here was a country with almost 1,000km of ... coastline, with mountains and the Empty Quarter, and most of it was virtually unknown to the outside world."

Mr Hill first came to the country in 1974 and says that at the time Oman was a difficult place to visit. "They were just coming out of a period where they were governed by a Sultan who didn't really appreciate too many visitors coming in. And so it was the birth of a new nation when his majesty, the current Sultan, took over. And so then you started to see the country's potential," he says. "Over the last five to 10 years, Oman has changed its attitude to tourism."

Oman Air, which hired Mr Hill as chief executive in 2008, is playing a central role in a development strategy based not only on tourism but also on industrial activity. The plan will see the Omani hinterland play a larger role in the national economy. It will also diversify revenues away from upstream oil and gas production, which is lucrative but not labour intensive, into tourism as well as downstream industries such as petrochemicals and steel manufacturing, which hold great potential to create jobs for Omanis.

The government's airport operator, Oman Airports Management, plans to award a dozen contracts this year and next year to upgrade facilities in the capital city Muscat and Salalah, and build four airports along the coast and in the country's heartland. An airport capable of handling 500,000 passengers annually will be built at Ras al Hadd, helping to improve the tourism infrastructure and support the area's main draw, a turtle sanctuary.

The coastal towns of Duqm and Sohar will each get an airport with a 500,000 annual passenger capacity. These will support the country's industrial plans including metals and petrochemical plants, ports and dry docks, and logistics. In Sohar alone, public and private sector funds totalling $15bn have been poured into the port and adjacent free zone, officials from the Port of Sohar say. The fourth new airport will be at Adam, in the interior, which will be smaller than the others and cater initially for executive jet flights.

Rob O'Hanlon, the regional tourism, hospitality and leisure industry group leader for the consultancy Deloitte, says Oman's next push could be in hotels. "The [Ras al Hadd] region would benefit from expansion of quality accommodation facilities, which are limited at the moment and [for] which there is enormous potential for growth," he says. One of the newest arrivals in Oman's hotel sector will be a Club Med in Salalah on the country's southern coast, after an agreement was signed in January with Oman-based Muriya Tourism Development.

Oman attracts a reported 2 million tourists a year, 40 per cent from Europe, its strongest market. A third arrive from the GCC and about 13 per cent from Asia. Twenty-one new aircraft, which were ordered in 2007, will be used in developing the tourism sector. New long-haul aircraft capable of reaching Europe and Asia will bring in more tourists and businessmen, Mr Hill says, while shorter-range aircraft will tap into regional destinations such as Beirut and Amman as well as ferry tourists from Muscat to destinations such as Ras al Hadd and Salalah.

But while the government is modernising the economy, it does not want to lose sight of what makes Oman special - its relaxed atmosphere and natural beauty, Mr Hill says. "They want to do all this without spoiling what Oman is today," he says. "There is no inferiority complex to their neighbours. In fact, they are very proud to be different." * additional reporting by Rebecca Bundhun @Email:igale@thenational.ae

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

The bio

Who inspires you?

I am in awe of the remarkable women in the Arab region, both big and small, pushing boundaries and becoming role models for generations. Emily Nasrallah was a writer, journalist, teacher and women’s rights activist

How do you relax?

Yoga relaxes me and helps me relieve tension, especially now when we’re practically chained to laptops and desks. I enjoy learning more about music and the history of famous music bands and genres.

What is favourite book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I think I've read it more than 7 times

What is your favourite Arabic film?

Hala2 Lawen (Translation: Where Do We Go Now?) by Nadine Labaki

What is favourite English film?

Mamma Mia

Best piece of advice to someone looking for a career at Google?

If you’re interested in a career at Google, deep dive into the different career paths and pinpoint the space you want to join. When you know your space, you’re likely to identify the skills you need to develop.  

 

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

ESSENTIALS

The flights 
Emirates, Etihad and Swiss fly direct from the UAE to Zurich from Dh2,855 return, including taxes.
 

The chalet
Chalet N is currently open in winter only, between now and April 21. During the ski season, starting on December 11, a week’s rental costs from €210,000 (Dh898,431) per week for the whole property, which has 22 beds in total, across six suites, three double rooms and a children’s suite. The price includes all scheduled meals, a week’s ski pass, Wi-Fi, parking, transfers between Munich, Innsbruck or Zurich airports and one 50-minute massage per person. Private ski lessons cost from €360 (Dh1,541) per day. Halal food is available on request.

A cryptocurrency primer for beginners

Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies+– by Kiana Danial 

There are several primers for investing in cryptocurrencies available online, including e-books written by people whose credentials fall apart on the second page of your preferred search engine. 

Ms Danial is a finance coach and former currency analyst who writes for Nasdaq. Her broad-strokes primer+(2019) breaks down investing in cryptocurrency into baby steps, while explaining the terms and technologies involved.

Although cryptocurrencies are a fast evolving world, this book offers a good insight into the game as well as providing some basic tips, strategies and warning signs.

Begin your cryptocurrency journey here. 

Available at Magrudy’s , Dh104 

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Start-up hopes to end Japan's love affair with cash

Across most of Asia, people pay for taxi rides, restaurant meals and merchandise with smartphone-readable barcodes — except in Japan, where cash still rules. Now, as the country’s biggest web companies race to dominate the payments market, one Tokyo-based startup says it has a fighting chance to win with its QR app.

Origami had a head start when it introduced a QR-code payment service in late 2015 and has since signed up fast-food chain KFC, Tokyo’s largest cab company Nihon Kotsu and convenience store operator Lawson. The company raised $66 million in September to expand nationwide and plans to more than double its staff of about 100 employees, says founder Yoshiki Yasui.

Origami is betting that stores, which until now relied on direct mail and email newsletters, will pay for the ability to reach customers on their smartphones. For example, a hair salon using Origami’s payment app would be able to send a message to past customers with a coupon for their next haircut.

Quick Response codes, the dotted squares that can be read by smartphone cameras, were invented in the 1990s by a unit of Toyota Motor to track automotive parts. But when the Japanese pioneered digital payments almost two decades ago with contactless cards for train fares, they chose the so-called near-field communications technology. The high cost of rolling out NFC payments, convenient ATMs and a culture where lost wallets are often returned have all been cited as reasons why cash remains king in the archipelago. In China, however, QR codes dominate.

Cashless payments, which includes credit cards, accounted for just 20 per cent of total consumer spending in Japan during 2016, compared with 60 per cent in China and 89 per cent in South Korea, according to a report by the Bank of Japan.

The Al Barzakh Festival takes place on Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm in the Red Theatre, NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. Tickets cost Dh105 for adults from platinumlist.net

OPTA'S PREDICTED TABLE

1. Liverpool 101 points

2. Manchester City 80 

3. Leicester 67

4. Chelsea 63

5. Manchester United 61

6. Tottenham 58

7. Wolves 56

8. Arsenal 56

9. Sheffield United 55

10. Everton 50

11. Burnley 49

12. Crystal Palace 49

13. Newcastle 46

14. Southampton 44

15. West Ham 39

16. Brighton 37

17. Watford 36

18. Bournemouth 36

19. Aston Villa 32

20. Norwich City 29

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★


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