014_G19_Tourism

Global

Global Insight Tourism Oman: tourism, but not at any price The sultanate wants to attract tourists to help diversify its economy. But only those who have a respect for Oman’s ancient culture should consider booking a fl ight to Muscat Words and photography: Juliet Highet Shutterstock / A Jellema Flying in over the white-domed roofs of Muscat at night, I was already experiencing a gentle surge of pleasure at returning to one of the most attractive capitals in the world. The drive from the airport cruises into town along freeways lined with fl owers and ministerial buildings exemplifying the modern mughal style, a blend of creative contemporary architecture and satisfactory Moorish aesthetics – think Alhambra. Exquisitely tiled mosques glitter between more austere yet gilded banks; luscious parks are evidence of the conscious greening of the Arabian desert. It’s a revelation of what recent wealth advisedly applied can do for a country. This was my 11th visit to Oman. Why? It’s laid-back to the point of languor, so different from that ode to commerce, Dubai – not a steel and glass high-rise in sight, not a whiff of the sex ‘n’ shopping culture that has come to defi ne tourism there. Oman retains a sense of pre-oil ancient Arabia, especially beyond the capital, and in Muscat, too, history is still tangible. Despite rapid redevelopment, life never seems to be rushed in this haven of unspoilt, small-town charm. Nowadays tourists from all over the Middle East travel to Muscat for its exceptionally tranquil atmosphere. In summer they fl ock to Salalah in the south, relishing its cool monsoon conditions and verdant landscape – a seasonal oasis on a grand scale. Its people have self-respect and evident pride in their distinctive heritage, as well as the modernisation introduced over the last 50 years by their benevolent Sultan. In the past, Oman was isolated from its neighbours by deserts, mountains or sea, and this has had a subtle effect on its inhabitants, who tend to be softly reserved and dignifi ed, yet with a relaxed and hospitable bonhomie. With its vestiges of past civilisations, little-known archaeological sites, intriguing old cities, castles and forts to prove it, as well as sleepy atmospheric rural and fi shing villages hardly touched by time, four 14 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global


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