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July 21, 2008

Green incentives in Oman

The Ras al-Jinz Scientific & Visitors Centre located four hours’ drive from Muscat, provides delegates with a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the beachfront antics of turtles laying their eggs and the life or death struggle of young hatchlings as they make a desperate journey across the sands to reach the relative safety of the seas.


The centre is located in the Ras al-Jinz Sea Turtle & Nature Reserve, established in 1996 and covering a total protected area of 120 square kilometres.


“The Ras al-Jinz protected area is a joint effort from the ministry of tourism, ministry of environment and an Oman Liquefied Natural Gas Company CSR initiative,” explains Pierre Abu Aoun, regional manager – Oman, Expeditions International EMC, the site management company.


The new Ras al-Jinz Scientific & Visitors Centre offers a state-of-the-art eco-tourism facility that provides a unique learning and recreational experience to visitors. It offers everything from turtle watching to environmental and archaeological research facilities.


The Carapace Lodge offers luxury accommodation within the turtle sanctuary. It has 12 rooms offering personalised VIP service. Guests also benefit from the Sambuk restaurant, which offers international and oriental cuisine and a large terrace area where guests can enjoy the gentle ocean breezes.


The lodge, restaurant and other centre areas employ staff from the local community. “We have professional tour guides, trained on how to communicate with visitors. Revenue goes back into nature conservation while providing a high quality tours service,” says Abu Aoun.


“We are also training people from the community on how to run a small business,” he adds.


In addition to creating new jobs for local communities, the project will increase economic activity within the Ras al-Jinz area and provide a well-defined capacity-building programme to increase the local community’s skills and, consequently, its wellbeing.


The aim at the Ras al-Jinz Scientific & Visitors Centre is to provide a five-star service, offering limited groups exclusive opportunities to get close up to the turtles as well as teaching groups about the animals and their nesting habits, and providing conservation too.


“Turtle watching is the main attraction. Ninety percent of tourists to Oman come to see the turtles. The turtles come ashore every day and you need to book and reserve a tour in advance,” Abu Aoun recommends.


An exceptionally high number of turtles nest in Oman each year with an average of 30,000 nesting on the beaches at Ras al-Jinz. The beaches of Ras al-Jinz are the largest nesting site for Green Turtles on the Indian Ocean.


In addition to turtles, the Ras al-Jinz area also contains some of the most important archaeological sites in Oman, featuring ancient fishermen’s cottages and tools. The remains of the earliest known buildings, and the oldest incense burner and wooden boat, were all discovered here.


In addition to turtle watching and archaeological tours, the centre will also offer ‘Nomadic Dining’ options, enabling corporate groups and tour operators to request outdoor catering or picnics at many of the scenic landscapes of al-Sharkiyah.


“Incentive groups can take advantage of our nomadic dining formula, where they can eat inside or on the rocks, in the desert or beside a wadi. No matter where, we will still provide five-star services,” says Abu Aoun.


Conference facilities are also available onsite for groups of 40 for day meetings, including video conferencing, library and all necessary infrastructures.


“We also have teambuilding instructors and can provide activities in the area, including trips to Sud and Al Hadd,” says Abu Aoun.


Other facilities include an educational kid’s park; a media lounge for journalists, photographers and personnel working for media agencies; and water sports activities at the nearby beach.


The centre will also feature an interactive Sea Turtle & Archaeology Museum and 3D Ocean Experience, which will open in October.


“The 3D theatre – designed as a half dome – will show a presentation on the life of sea turtles and the sea,” explains Abu Aoun.


Since opening in June, the feedback for the eco-resort has been very positive with Abu Aoun and his team receiving enquiries from international markets, such as Brazil, Canada and Australia, exploring Oman as a destination.


Expeditions International EMC has two more eco-tourism developments in the pipeline for Oman. The company is planning a boutique hotel in Jebel Akhdar – 2,400 metres above sea level – which will open in September. It will offer 27 keys and is built from local stone. “The hotel overlooks small villages and is very picturesque. Our main target market is high-end travellers,” says Abu Aoun.


A Bedouin camp at Jebel Shams is also planned. Funded by local investors, this will be another community-based initiative.


“Oman is not just about sun and sea but also about nature and culture. We offer pure Arabian hospitality,” Abu Aoun concludes.

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