Sustainable Travel in Oman

On the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman shares borders with the United Arab Emirates and both Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the southwest. The Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman form the coast. The oldest known human settlement in Oman dates to the Stone Age. Many Bedouins and other Arab tribes settled in Oman, and still make a living by fishing, herding or breeding stock. From the late 17th century, the Omani Sultanate was a powerful empire contending with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. In the 19th century at its height, Omani control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan and as far south as Zanzibar. Oman has a treasure trove of history in its 500 or so forts, castles and towers in varied architectural styles. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bahla Fort, for example, sits at the base of the Djebel Akhdar Highlands. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, it has seven miles of walls. Bahla was then a thriving oasis town. The 16th-century Jalali and Mirani forts still guard the entrance to Muscat Bay. Mostly gravel desert, Oman nonetheless supports indigenous mammals that include leopard, hyena, fox, wolf, hare, oryx and ibex. Birds include vulture, eagle, stork, bustard, Arabian partridge, bee-eater, falcon and sunbird. Recently, Oman has become popular for whale watching, highlighting the critically endangered Arabian humpback whale, the most isolated and only non-migratory population in the world, as well as sperm and pygmy blue whales. Historic forts, ancient market souks, and dramatic coastlines, Oman offers an array of experiences, both land and sea.

What are they doing right?

Oman has a wealth of natural and cultural heritage attractions, including the rich marine life found in the waters of the Arabian Sea, coupled with spectacular beaches, world class eco-resorts such as Six Senses Zighy Bay, and great scuba and snorkeling diving sites. The interior offers stunning desert habitats, including the famous "Empty Quarter" sand dunes, ancient stone forts and beautiful oases. And then there are the bustling traditional souks and markets of Muscat, where old and new thrive side by side. Perhaps more than any other country in the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has long supported the protection of cultural heritage, authenticity and sense of place, as part of its tourism development planning. Oman has also hosted several international meetings focused on responsible tourism development as a way for the country to diversify its economy and protect its natural and cultural treasures. The Sultanate launched an ambitious 25-year National Tourism Strategy in 2015 that also notes the importance of sustainable tourism, including 14 identified tourism development clusters, to include environmentally-friendly infrastructure development and public-private partnerships.

The Elephant Ranking

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Destination stewardship planning is underway at the national level with multiple stakeholders, including government, NGOs, private sector and communities, to increase understanding and awareness of sustainable tourism best practices.

The Arabian Sea population of humpback whales is one of four humpback whale populations around the globe that is not recovering from historical whaling, and is at high risk of extinction without serious conservation efforts. A six-year study reports that the majority of humpback whale populations around the world are increasing following the International Whaling Commission’s ban on commercial hunting of this species in 1966. However, five populations have not shown the same signs of increase toward recovery, and are still listed as Endangered or Threatened. Evidence from Oman revealed that the population of Arabian Sea humpback whales is fewer than 100 individuals. This group is one of the only whales that do not migrate, and genetic evidence shows that it is distinct and is no longer in breeding contact with any other humpback whale populations. The Arabian Sea Whale Network (ASWN) collaborates with several international partners to conserve humpback whales and other cetaceans in the Arabian Sea. ASWN members include representatives of large international NGO’s such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as well as grass-roots environmental organizations such as the Environment Society of Oman and Plan4theland in Iran. It also includes regional academic institutions, such as the University of Karachi, independent researchers in Oman, India, Iran and Sri Lanka and other whale experts from around the world.

Why the Elephant Ranking?