Tunnel vision

As part of a comprehensive plan to diversify its tourism infrastructure, the Omani government is backing an ambitious cave development plan.

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By  John Irish Published  October 14, 2003

Visitors to Oman will soon have the opportunity to delve into the midst of the Sultanate's mountains after the government awarded a US $3.19 million contract to begin work on developing Oman's cave infrastructure. Work on the Al Hota cave in the Al Hamra region will proceed in two phases with total cost rising to around $7 million.

The first phase carried out by the Hasan Juma Backer Trading & Contracting Company will see the construction of reception facilities, car parks and access to the cave. It is due for completion by September 2004.

"The natural beauty of these caves with over 2km of paths, lakes and caverns will make it extremely attractive for tourism," S. Sundaram, project manager, Hasan Juma Trading and Contracting told Arabian Business.

According to Sundaram, the contract will also comprise a state of the art visitor centre, although he was unclear as to how much his firm would be involved in the second stage.

The government is currently considering bids for the next phase, which will see the development of the cave's core, including tunnels, passageways and a 650m mini rail track to carry visitors to the heart of the cave.

The cave is expected to be open to tourists by the end of 2004.

The move follows the tourism authority's announcement in early October that it was set to allocate US $30 million to promote the country over the next two years.

Should the Al Hota project prove successful, the government has pinpointed three other caves across the Sultanate that could be used to develop this niche tourism; the Tiwi Attir sinkhole in Dhofar, the Muqal cave in Wadi Bani Khaled in Sharqiyah province and the Al Falahi cave also in Al Hamra.

While neighbouring Dubai is building a mass tourism infrastructure, Oman is looking to tap into middle and high-class tourists as a way to raise tourism GDP and remaining careful not to offend local sensitivities.

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