MUSCAT: Oman is opening up to tourism once again, and is taking a number of steps to encourage international travelers to visit.
After announcing in July last year that tourist visas would be extended until March 2021, the Omani authorities have revealed that eligible citizens of more than 100 countries can now travel to Oman visa-free for up to 10 days.
Compared with other nations around the world, the numbers of the pandemic remained relatively low in Oman, and the sultanate did not face a collapse of the healthcare system.
This was also thanks to the travel restrictions and other limitations imposed by the government to curb the spread of the disease (you can click on the following link if you want further information about Oman’s COVID-19 restrictions.)
However, the sultanate’s economy, which is already going through a delicate stage trying to transition away from its dependency on oil resources, was heavily affected by the pandemic.
Oman has much to offer to travelers in terms of history, culture, and natural beauty, so it comes as no surprise that the country decided to boost international tourism to fuel its financial recovery.
Visa Extension for Tourists
Like many other countries around the world, Omanis authorities saw themselves with no other option but to suspend visa issuance back in March.
This affected the vast majority of foreigners and was part of a larger attempt to prevent the virus from spreading, which also included temporarily closing non-essential shops and establishments such as bars and restaurants, gyms, kindergartens, and conference centers (among others).
However, the government’s message was clear: Tourists who had already chosen Oman as their holiday destination did not have to see this is as yet another missed opportunity in 2020, but rather as a delayed plan.
On June 11, 2020, it was announced that all Omani visas granted between March and August 2020 would be extended until March 2021.
The sultanate was going in a different direction compared to many other countries that had decided to cancel tourist visas without the possibility of a refund.
On Oct. 1, 2020, the travel ban on commercial international flights was lifted and visas gradually started to be issued again. Although priority was given to work visas, foreigners from several countries were eventually allowed to apply for tourist visas once again, as long as they traveled to Oman as part of an organized tour.
The tourism industry suffered greatly during the pandemic. Omani 3- to 5-star hotels saw their revenue drop by 60.2 percent this year and there were 53.9 percent fewer visitors occupying Omani accommodation compared to October 2019.
No visa needed for short-term visitors to Oman
Re-opening the borders was not enough to return Omani tourism to last year’s numbers. To further encourage holiday-makers to visit the Gulf nation, the Royal Oman Police announced in a tweet that citizens of 103 countries can enter Oman visa-free for trips of up to 10 days. The measure came into effect on Dec. 10, 2020.
Here is the translation of the original tweet: “In support of the tourist movement and to facilitate the tourists wishing to visit the sultanate, the Royal Oman Police announces that the nationals of 103 countries will be exempted from entry visas to the sultanate for a period of 10 days, according to the specified controls and conditions, including the presence of a prior and confirmed hotel reservation, health insurance, and a return ticket.”
The visa-free rule comes with some conditions that must be met by travelers:
• Maximum stay of 10 days
• Mandatory PCR testing at Muscat International Airport
• Mandatory health insurance cover for at least 1 month (in case the visitor requires hospitalization due to contracting COVID-19 and cannot leave the sultanate within 10 days)
• Return ticket or proof of onward travel
• Confirmation of accommodation booking (both hotel and rental accommodations are acceptable)
• Having downloaded the contact tracing app Tarassud. Those planning to stay longer than 7 days must also download the HMushrif app.
• Having filled out the pre-travel registration form in all of its parts
The cost of the PCR test — 25 Omani rials ($65) — must be borne by the international traveler, who can pay for the test via the app Tarassud before reaching Oman. Upon landing, they can show the confirmation HR code to the local authorities to fast track the test.
Kids under 15 years of age are not required to take the test. Passengers must wait for the results in self-isolation. Results usually take between 12-24 hours. However, some travelers may be asked to quarantine for longer.
The Economic impact of COVID-19 in Oman
Financial challenges faced by Sultan Haitham’s government multiplied in 2020. At a moment when the country was trying to come to terms with already low oil prices and was working on a plan to diversify its economy, the pandemic and consequent worldwide shutdown exacerbated economic difficulties.
While growth is expected to contract by 3.5 percent, Oman cannot count on exports in the short-term future due to the pandemic. Experts warn that unemployment could go from 2.7 to 3.8 percent in 2021.
Following Sultan Haitham’s instructions, the government formed a committee tasked with the study of the economic impact of COVID-19. Among its first actions, the committee offered interest-free loans to businesses that suffered due to the pandemic.
Boosting international tourism will play an important part in the post-COVID-19 financial recovery plan. Other key sectors include gas and infrastructure. At the same time, nationalization rules are being relaxed in sectors such as construction and brick factories in the hope that the possibility of hiring expats will support the economy.