A mission for Oman in sports tourism

The sultanate aims to hasten its development and boost its profile on the international stage.

Hopes are high in Oman that hosting the upcoming Asian Beach Games will boost the country's emerging sports tourism industry. The beach games, to be held from December 8-16 in Muscat, will feature 14 events, including football, volleyball, sailing and more traditional Asian games such as sepak takraw, or kick volleyball in which a rattan ball is used, and kabaddi, a South Asian game.

In kabaddi, single players from one team on one side of the field take turns charging into the full opposing team on the other half of the pitch in an effort to tag opponents. The runner is required to take only one breath and to chant the word kabaddi repeatedly until he returns to his own half of the field - if he escapes capture during his foray. "The tourism sector expects a 15 to 20 per cent increase to Oman during the games," said Gamal Sadek, the director of Oman's ministry of tourism representative offices for the GCC.

"During the games themselves, benefits will include the use of new stadium and other infrastructure associated with the games, creation of jobs and revenues from the games - tickets, TV rights, sponsorship," he said. "In the period after the games, we anticipate benefits in the ongoing use of the stadiums and infrastructure, increased human capital, urban regeneration and a boost to Oman's international reputation."

Oman's investment in the games has been substantial. Omran, the government's tourism development and investment arm, is building Musannah Sports City outside Muscat to host many of the activities. The site includes an athletes villageto accommodate what is expected to be more than 5,000 contestants, a four-star hotel, a 400-berth marina with restaurants and shops, and competition grounds with stands for between 4,000 and 5,000 spectators.

"This event positions Oman as a progressive, outward-looking and uniquely hospitable part of Asia, and defines Oman as a host for future international events," Mr Sadek said. Analysts at Euromonitor Internationalsaid the economic downturn had hit Oman's tourism industry hard but the future looked brighter because of ongoing development, including projects related to the games. "With the large number of projects under way, such as the Blue City, the Omani government is working hard to put in place the necessary infrastructure to enhance travel and tourism, in terms of flights, promotional campaigns, integrated tourism complexes and an adequate accommodation supply."

The US$20 billion (Dh73.45bn) Blue City development ran into difficulties amid the financial crisis, however. Other major tourism projects in Oman include The Wave development, which is to feature hotels, a marina and a variety of entertainment and leisure facilities. Affordable travel made possible by regional budget carriers such as flydubai has been a factor in the growth of Oman's tourism, Euromonitor says.

According to its long-term economic road map, known as Oman 2020, the country is aiming to establish itself as a regional travel and tourism hub and increase the sector's contribution to GDP to 3 per cent or more, as well as boost the private sector's role and foreign investment in tourism development. rbundhun@thenational.ae