Money & costs
In building a modern state, Sultan Qaboos’ chief strategy has been to create a highly trained local workforce through intensive investment in education. Schooling is free, even at tertiary level, and provision is made (until recently by helicopter) for children of even the remotest villages.
With limited oil revenues, Oman cannot sustain costly expatriate labour, so a policy of ‘Omanisation’ in every aspect of the workforce is rigorously pursued. In contrast to the rest of the region, it is refreshing to find locals – often of both sexes – working in all sections of society, from petrol pump attendants to senior consultants.
Two central planks of the economy are self-sufficiency in food production, realised through intensive agriculture along the Batinah coast, and diversification of the economy. These schemes include the export of natural gas from a successful plant near Sur; an enormous port project in Salalah, the first phase of which is now complete; and the Sohar port project. The latter has already helped turn Sohar into a city reminiscent of its illustrious past with a university and large hospital complex. The decision to disperse new economic initiatives across the regions has helped keep local communities buoyant and helped slow the exodus of villagers migrating to the capital.
A third central plank of the economy is tourism, which is growing rapidly. A large resort complex, Bandar Jissah, opened in the capital area in 2005, and in 2006 the Wave, a seafront residential and tourism development, started offering expats the opportunity to own property in Oman for the first time. In addition, one of the largest development projects on the Arabian Peninsula, called Blue City, is underway, with plans for an entire new town, canals and marinas, luxury hotels and recreational facilities, carved out of the desert around Sawadi.
Much investment continues to be made in Oman’s infrastructure – no mean feat given the challenges presented by the country’s size, remoteness and terrain. It is now possible to drive on sealed roads to most towns and villages across the country.
Most banks will change US-dollar travellers cheques for a commission. Moneychangers keep similar hours to banks, but are often open from around 4pm to 7pm as well. They usually offer a slightly more competitive rate than the banks, and most charge only a nominal commission of 500 baisa per cash transaction.