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Oman: International tourist nimbers to increase 14 percent
MUSCAT, Oman - Number of foreign tourists visiting Oman is expected to increase 14 percent compared to last year.

"Last year, we had about 2.2 million tourists visiting Oman, and the number has remained healthy so far this year. We are looking to an average of a 14 percent increase compared to last year," Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, said.

According to Al Mahrouqi, the direct contribution of tourism to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) was 2.6 percent through the end of 2013, and the indirect contribution was 6.4 percent.

"It is our mission to increase it," she said. Al Mahrouqi also stated that the ministry will increase the number of its representative offices in other countries.

So far, these offices cover many countries, including France, Britain, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, she noted.

She made her comments following a ceremony in Saint Malo, in which Oman's national flag was handed over to Sidney Gavignet, the French skipper of Musandam-Oman Sail boat, who is participating in the Route du Rhum race.

72-hour stopover visa initiative in final stages

Al Mahrouqi also said that the initiative to issue 72-hour visas to passengers transiting through Oman is in its final stages and will hopefully be announced soon.

"The objective of the Ministry of Tourism is to promote Oman as a destination through such initiatives," Al Mahrouqi said.

Al Mahrouqi said that there has been significant cooperation, in terms of developing the stopover programme in Oman between all stakeholders, including Oman Air, hotels, tour operators and the immigration authority.

"So, hopefully this will start as a good platform and will be reviewed on a regular basis to have more countries participating, according to how many countries Oman Air has direct flights to," the official said, adding that the initiative is in its final stages.

French tourists

Commenting on the ministry's efforts to promote Oman's tourism in France as a major market, she said that 47,000 French citizens visited the Sultanate last year, and that figure is expected to be higher this year.

"In the first six months of 2014, around 26,000 French citizens visited Oman, and we are expecting that number to increase in the third and fourth quarter of this year," she added.

Asked if any 'visa on arrival' initiative will be introduced for Omanis visiting France, Al Mahrouqi said that it is linked to the nation's foreign affairs and authorities are looking into it.

However, she said that the visa process for Omani visitors to France is quite simple and Omanis are not facing any problems obtaining visas.


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