Natural wonders of Oman: Salalah is under threat of flooding

    19 Aug 2021

    Until July 2021, there was no need to travel far to escape the sizzling summer heat in Oman. Travel to Salalah, a unique spot with a cool climate and green scenery, drew large numbers of visitors.

    But recently, everything had changed.

    Road to Salalah a ‘nightmare’ as Omanis flee floods and heatwave

    From heavy downpours last month to extremely hot temperatures in August, Omanis are on edge as they look for a place to spend their summer holidays, The National News states.

    Last month, floods caused by heavy storms killed eight people in different parts of Oman and destroyed properties, businesses, and vehicles.

    The government and private companies came up with a $12.5 million relief package to help victims.

    But this month, with the mercury registering nearly 50°C, Omanis and expatriates spend most of their time in shopping malls or on the beach to cool themselves off.

    “Staying indoors is not an option,” Omani Mohammed Al Fraishi, 42, a construction company owner, told The National.

    “We have been in the lockdown for so long. We cannot go for our summer holidays abroad in cooler weather like Europe or in the Far East.

    “We are stuck here and it is getting a bit depressing to stay indoors all the time.”

    Oman has been in and out of lockdown since the start of the pandemic to control coronavirus infections.

    Almost 300,000 people have caught the virus, and it has killed 3,868. The current lockdown, which started on July 24, runs from 10 pm to 4 am for an indefinite period.

    With travel abroad barred, many have decided to holiday locally at the southern resort of Salalah, just to escape the heat. But the drive there has proved perilous.

    “The road trip to Salalah is a nightmare,” Salem Al Marjabi, 39, an Omani secondary school teacher, told The National. “There are hundreds of cars on the road, from different cities in Oman.

    “Twice, we nearly collided with oncoming cars that were coming at a very high speed towards us.”

    She said the journey from Muscat, which usually takes eight hours, was closer to 13 hours this week.

    Omani police issued a warning on Wednesday after the death of three people on their way to Salalah by road.

    They said many more had been injured in road accidents as they make their way to the resort area.

    Sub-tropical Salalah has mild weather during the summer, when the average temperature is about 27° C, compared with the rest of Oman, where it can soar as high as 50° C.

    The popular Khareef season in Salalah attracts about 400,000 GCC tourists every summer, including 100,000 from the UAE.

    The city attracts famous Arab singers such as Lebanese star Nancy Ajram, who performed there in 2019.

    Other entertainment includes concerts, folk dancing, exhibitions, live performances, shopping arcades, and traditional markets.

    But the wealthy do not drive to Salalah. They fly to avoid the congested and sometimes fatal roads.

    “There is no way I will drive to Salalah at this time of the year. It is a long drive and sometimes dangerous,” said Abdulamir Al Lawati, 52, a businessman in Muscat.

    “I just take my family and board an aircraft. We arrange tours for sightseeing and rent a car there to go anywhere we want.”

    But cash-strapped Omanis find it cheaper to drive to the resort instead of paying the 78 rials ($202) a person for a return journey.

    “We are seven of us, including five children,” said Abdulrahim Al Saidi, 44, a civil servant.” It will cost us a lot of money in airfare.

    “We just drive and pay a quarter of that airfare to buy petrol. The long route and the traffic are worth the risk because we simply cannot afford to fly there.”

    Salalah in trouble as COVID-19 curtails tourism for the second year in a row

    Tour guides and their charges lament a lack of atmosphere in Salalah, Oman, as lockdowns and evening stay-home orders keep tourists away, The National News reports.

    Seasonal workers sit idle as Covid-19 scuttles hopes of relief for the city’s tourism-dependent economy in this year’s summer months when it is usually wildly popular with regional visitors.

    Raid Al Darbooni, a taxi driver in Salalah, said movement restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus had almost halted tourism this year.

    “This is the second year in a row that we are going through hardship,” Mr. Al Darbooni, 34, told The National.

    “My business relies heavily on tourists coming here, and without them, it is really hard for us to make ends meet.”

    Last summer, Oman canceled Salalah’s famed Khareef Festival for the first time in 34 years. Entry to the city was barred for the whole summer when Covid-19 in the country was at its worst.

    The festival, held during the cooler monsoon season, draws visitors from the Gulf hoping to escape the summer heat elsewhere in the region.

    In 2021, Salalah is open to tourists. But a string of restrictions, including a night-time lockdown from 5 pm to 4 am and a requirement that visitors must have at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot has kept most tourists away.

    Independent tour guides, who depend heavily on tourists, also speak of hardship as they mostly sit at home idle with very limited income.

    “I had only three families of Emiratis this month to take them around to different attractions in the city. This is in comparison to 20 to 25 families a month around this time. We thought this year, after a bad year last year, it will get better, but it only got slightly better,” said Salim Al Shanfari, 31, an independent tour guide.

    The few tourists from the Gulf who have turned up say all festivals have been forbidden and the only attractions left were the mild weather and beauty spots.

    “The usual bustling of this city is not here for the second year in a row. We miss the large shopping festivals, songs, and dances in the streets. Though it is still nice and the weather is better than in the UAE, the usual spirit of festivity is not here this time, like last year,” Ahmed Al Masroori, 52, from Abu Dhabi, told The National.

    Before the start of the pandemic, the Khareef Festival pulled in more than 100,000 Emiratis and about 300,000 visitors from other GCC states. Emiratis make up about 10 % of the Salalah Khareef visitors, mainly because of the proximity and the traditional ties between the two countries.

    The popular festival attracts famous Arab singers such as Lebanese star Nancy Ajram, who performed there in 2019. Other entertainment includes concerts, folk dancing, exhibitions, live performances, shopping arcades, and traditional markets.

    Tourists generate an income of about 50 million rials ($130m) during the summer festival in the southern resort city, known for its large population of camels and its greenery.

    There are no official statistics on how many tourists have visited Salalah this year or how much money they might generate this time around. But tourism experts say it will be severely restricted.

    “I would say only 10 % of the usual tourists are here so far, since the beginning of the summer, and not many more will be here in the rest of the summer months. So, without any doubt, income to businesses will be severely affected this year, too, like last year,” Saad Al Saadi, a retired member of the Salalah Tourism Association, told Reuters.

    Tags Oman tourism

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