Coronavirus may leave Oman's tourism at 'once in a lifetime' low

The suspension of all tourist visas and a ban on cruise ships may strain tourism businesses, with experts saying attractions are already deserted

This picture taken on November 29, 2018 shows a view of the city of Nizwa from the walls of the 17th-century fortification of the same name, about 160 kilometres southwest of the capital Muscat. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)
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Oman's tourism experts say the fallout from coronavirus could mean the end of the road for some businesses as the country implements new protection measures to limit the spread of the pandemic.

On Friday, a month-long suspension of tourist visas for visitors from all countries was announced, as well as a ban on cruise ships berthing at Omani ports, causing the cancellation of about a fifth of the ship calls scheduled for the season 2019/2020.

Mac Thomson, CEO of MMIS LLC, an Oman-based hotel and asset management company for hospitality properties, said that the virus could cause a drop in tourist numbers to a “once in a lifetime level” low level.

“Hotels are considering closing their doors,” Mr Thomson said, adding that they could stay shut until September to save on operating costs.

Mr Thomson predicted a drop of at least 60 per cent drop in revenue per room, which is set to put a strain on businesses, many of which are already seeing reduced income.

Global real estate company Colliers reported that the revenue per room rate in the capital Muscat has fallen by almost 50 per cent since 2015.

“A number of underperforming properties will not survive”, Mr Thomson said.

The visa ban in Oman — which currently has 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus — will only affect the last few months of the season, which runs from September to April, and businesses are hoping that domestic tourism can help mitigate the effects.

However, tourism expert Badar Al Dhuhli told The National that Oman's top tourist attractions are already deserted, that hotel occupancy rates have fallen dramatically and prices per night are going down.

Some tour operators said they have cancelled all their bookings and are not accepting new ones until the crisis is over.

Following the 2014 collapse in oil prices, Oman identifies tourism, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, as a high-priority sector.

The industry was previously predicted to employ directly and indirectly up to 293,000 people by 2030 to cater to the need of seven million tourists, including three million international visitors.

Oman's Ministry of Tourism is yet to assess the economic impact of the outbreak, but Mr Al Dhuhli believes that many small and medium-sized enterprises will go bankrupt if the crisis goes on for months.

He called for government-led support similar to the stimulus packages announced by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, worth a combined US$40 billion, to ease the economic impact of the virus.

Mohammed Al Kalbani, 33, who has been working as a freelance tour guide in Oman since October 2019, said he currently has no clients.

“Hopefully, next season will be better,” he said.