The Omani government recently handed over Muscat Port’s waterfront assets to Omran, the wholly government owned tourism investment vehicle, for the implementation of the ambitious Mina Sultan Qaboos Waterfront Project.
Omran’s vision to transform the port into a lavish waterfront destination means that some of the berths at the port will be the subject of an extensive makeover and thus off-limits to ships calling at Muscat, but the project is unlikely to affect cruise ships calling in the coming cruise season.
The waterfront project will turn the port into a major cruise tourism hub for the region, with more than US $1.2-billion due to be invested in the building of seven luxurious hotels, 450 retail shops, around 900 residential units, and scores of attractions designed to transform the Muttrah waterfront into a year-round tourism and leisure destination.
The move is the latest step in efforts to transform Port Sultan Qaboos from a commercial port into a tourism and leisure marine hub.
In 2011, Sultan Qaboos bin Said issued directives to transfer the commercial activities of Port Sultan Qaboos to Port Sohar and convert Port Sultan Qaboos into an integrated tourist port.
The harbour is located in the heart of the Muttrah area of Muscat, which originally was the centre of commerce in Muscat and remains the ‘old city’ heart of the Omani capital.
Muttrah has one of the oldest traditional souks in the Arab world, with a history stretching back over 200 years and is the most visited tourist destination in Oman.
For this reason, the port will remain the cruise hub for the country, but will be significantly upgraded in an effort to compete with Dubai and Abu Dhabi as a Middle East homeport.
Currently, Dubai is the primary turnaround port for Arabian Gulf cruises, with Celebrity Cruises the only one of the five UAE-based cruise lines to homeport in Abu Dhabi.
“More than 100 cruise itineraries visit Muscat annually, there is significant opportunity for homeport status,” says Omran.
Phase 1 will see the current cruise ship dock converted into a large yacht marina, while two new dedicated cruise terminals will be built on the other side of the wharf.
The masterplan calls for the building of four cruise terminals, enabling the Omani capital to accommodate as many cruise ships simultaneously as Abu Dhabi (Dubai has room for seven).
The UAE’s property development giant DAMAC has formed a joint venture with Omran for the re-development of the port.
While DAMAC says the new cruise port will include seven hotels and a mall, it hasn’t yet been announced which hotel groups will be launching properties within the development and the date for completion of phase 1 remains flexible.