But the tiny Sultanate of Oman is quietly in the middle of a travel revolution with plans to spend US$35 billion on tourism, and double visitor numbers over the next twenty years. At the moment, the country attracts just over 2.5 million people every year, with a plan to hit five million visitors by 2040. Oman can offer a somewhat more authentic insight into life in the Middle East when compared to its ultra-modern neighbours in the United Arab Emirates.
Among the major projects underway are a huge $390 million redevelopment of the commercial port in the capital city of Muscat. It will include docking facilities for cruise liners and super-yachts as well as six new hotels, and the new Souq Al Mina, which will be home to eighty eateries and shops, specialising in jewellery, fashion and textiles. New campgrounds are being built so that campers and their RVs can tour the Sultanate as they please, with the country’s very first water park also being developed.
In November, the country moved its first farmers’ market – Souq es Sabt – right into the heart of the capital at the InterContinental Hotel. And two months earlier, they had reopened the country’s most popular natural tourist attraction – the Al Hoota Cave – with a new visitor centre and an electric train. The two-million-year-old cave system is home to some unusual wildlife, including blind fish, cave bats, and hunter spiders.
The country also has four separate Unesco World Heritage sites. They include the immense Bahla Fort, and the Frankincense Trail, which charts the centuries old trade along the Incense Road through frankincense groves, the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar, and the ports from where the famous resin was shipped to the rest of the world.