Dec 25, 2010
Young tour guides are leading the way towards self-employment as the local job market is getting tighter. Thanks to a rise in the number of tourists visiting Oman this year.
Tour guides work throughout the year, cashing in with the Khareef season in Salalah during the summer and in the winter in the northern parts of the country.
As the Sultanate gets more popular with visitors, the business is thriving, according to local tour operators. “It is probably the only country in the region to attract tourists all year round,” Salim Al Busaidy, owner of Golden Sands Tour, said, adding “the business is getting better, especially this year, because we have seen a bigger turn-up of tourists than ever before”.
According to statistics of the Ministry of Tourism, about 7 per cent more visitors landed in Oman by end of November compared to the same period a year earlier.
In the last three years, the country has received around a million tourists a year on average. The tour guide trade is also buoyed by local residents venturing deep in the remote villages during the weekend or camping in the deserts on longer holidays. Most of the residents now prefer to travel extensively in the country as flying abroad has become more expensive.
“Oman has a lot to offer and we are right here. All one has to do is to ring up tour operators for taking to many of the picturesque places around the country at a budget price,” Anni Sorensen, an air traffic controller at Muscat Airport, said.
The tourism boom is increasingly helping Omanis set up new tour guide businesses. There are no exact statistics available on the number of tour guide companies operating in the country because some are not registered at the Ministry of Commerce. “Registration is a cumbersome process for small tour operators like us,” Hamed Al Ghaith, a resident at Ibri, said.
“All you need is a 4-wheel drive and you are in the business. There are plenty of tourists who want to go to places where their small cars would not go or do not have the knowledge of the routes. We cater for that market.” Ghaith said tour guiding offers an excellent opportunity for self employment for rural people since most of the attractions are outside Muscat.
The popular attractions outside Muscat are the Hoota Cave, Jabel Shams, the Wahiba Sands, beaches, forts, numerous oasis and wadis. But the favourite for those who love adventures is a trip to the Empty Quarter. It takes five to six hours drive to southwest from Muscat to the desert once crossed by British explorer Wilfred Thesiger. The sheer size of the desert and tranquillity of the nights fascinate all. “It costs RO100 to take someone there to camp over- night, including all the facilities like the sleeping quarters, food and the tour,” Ghaith said.
But the trip is as memorable to visitors as it is profitable to the tour operators. Young tour guides also cater for tourists looking for specialised adventures like trekking on rugged terrains, mount climbing and snorkelling in the clear waters in the Arabian Sea. “We make more money from taking tourists on these trips than if we are employed. It is also fulfilling since you run your own business with nobody to answer to,” Abdulaziz Al Subhi, an owner of a small tour guide firm at Al Hamra, near Jabel Shams, said.
These young tour guides are not making a fortune but are paving the way for the future of entrepreneurship.
The message is clear and that in an economy that can no longer support thousands of job seekers, self-employment is the better solution.