As part of the Sultan Qaboos’s plan for Omanization of his nation, the leader wishes to have less of Oman’s GNP be dependent on oil, and more on other industries, especially tourism. I have been lucky to have had the chance to be a tourist in many countries, and it’s interesting to see this industry in its true infancy. When I have gone to different places, I bring a certain set of expectations when going to a tourist site – there will be information to help me find a place; there will be more information (signs, guides, books, pamphlets, etc.) so that I learn what makes the place so important; attempts to preserve historic relics will be made, and; there will be tacky souvenir stores hawking plastic memories I can buy to remind me of where I have been. Though other places I have visited lack some of these things, here in Oman it’s a case of none of the above.
First, signage here is horrible. Want to go to that famous fort or castle? Good luck finding it! There may be a sign at some point in your journey, but not a follow-up one. Oh, and the famous site may be called several different things spelled in different ways, so be prepared to know all variation of what you are looking for.
Congratulations! Despite all odds, you make it to a tourist spot in Oman! Want some educational/historical information to go with that? Ooooo – sorry. No can do. There were no informational guides/pamphlets/maps available at any of the following places we have been: Rustaq Fort, Job’s Tomb, The Grand Mosque. You better read up on these sites on the interwebs if you want to know what you are visiting and its historical significance. There aren’t even any signs telling you what you are looking at, when it was built, etc.
History is not only hidden through lack of information, it is also covered up through over-restoration. For example, Al Hazm’s Castle looks like this now — it was built in the 12th Century, from the little information I can find out about it online.
Meanwhile, right around it are ruins of the old village it stood to protect. Nothing is being done to preserve (note: I did not say restore) these remnants of old buildings – and no, the buildings are not labeled. They just surround the place. Luckily, it seems acceptable to have an amble around on one’s own.
Finally, if you want to remember your visit here in Oman, please take your camera. You can get a tacky T-shirt in a hypermarket, but good luck finding a snow-globe, magnet, or even a postcard. Yes, souvenirs are easily gotten in a souk, but not at tourist sites in general. But speaking of souks, they sell little that is truly Omani. It seems that little of the heritage of this country has been preserved such that one can bring home something that is unique to this place. There are some exceptions such as frankincense, weavings, and khanjars, but overall, it’s hard to materialize memories here.
Maybe the more materialistic aspect of tourism isn’t something that Oman should change. But if this country wants to become a true tourist destination, and help its national economy, it’s going to have to clue us into what’s going on around here — and make more magnets.
Author’s note: This is an incomplete post, but I am having trouble articulating everything that I want to say well. I truly could go on and on about this, but felt like I just wanted to get my initial thoughts out there and perhaps revisit this topic later.