Trevor McCartney, General Manager of the newly opened Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, talks of how the development is expected to generate millions for the national economy as it taps the Sultanate’s business tourism potential.

How long has the center been under construction? How much investment has it cost to develop?

With the aim of developing a global event destination and a sustainable economic resource in Oman, plans for the OCEC began in 2007. The project, developed by Omran, is an initiative supporting the wider objectives of the Sultanate to diversify the economy and increase tourism with investments from both public and private sector organizations. The OCEC is commit-ted to the government’s vision to diversify the economy and contribute to the social and economic growth of the country. According to a study by Strategy&, the OCEC project is expected to generate $764 million in local spending, create an additional 15,000-18,000 permanent jobs and contribute between $518 million to $621 million to the national economy by 2030.

What are the aims of the center? Which sectors is it targeting? What will be the impact on the MICE industry?

It will provide a venue for international, regional and local conferences, exhibitions, wedding receptions, banquets, live events and corporate meetings in a purpose designed building with all the appropriate facilities. As the centerpiece of Oman’s business development program, the OCEC will act as a catalyst for business events in Oman and will have a direct impact on the economy of the Sultanate. The OCEC is a key asset in Oman’s drive to attract business visitors and build the business events sector in Oman. With the Sultanate looking to diversify its economy, this has been earmarked as a major area for growth, and by offering a world-class facility, this new business hub will allow Oman to compete for some of the larger, international conventions that could not have been accommodated before. The OCEC aims to be a major player in the international business events market by attracting more global business events to the Arabian Gulf. International conferences bring enormous economic and strategic benefit to Oman.

What are some of the unique features of the building?

It is one of the most important tourism investment projects in the country and promises to engender pride in every Omani because of its iconic stature. Located in its own fully integrated precinct only four kilometres from Muscat International Airport, it forms part of phase one of Madinat Al Irfan, an exciting new urban centre in the heart of Muscat. This precinct is one of many innovative communities currently under construction that are designed to create memorable and enjoyable experiences for visitors to the Sultanate. Aimed at establishing Oman as a major venue for regional and international events, the OCEC precinct will include four hotels, with a five star JW Marriot and a four-star Crowne Plaza, both set to open in 2017. The precinct will also include a business park, retail shopping areas and residential districts, surrounded by a picturesque nature reserve, which is a haven for Oman’s exotic birdlife, together with parklands, and a wadi park. Features of the centre include a tiered theatre seating 3,200 people, an additional 450-person auditorium along with 20 dedicated meeting rooms, two luxury ballrooms, hospitality suites and 22,000 square metres of exhibition space—altogether, more than 55 different meeting space options.The identity of the centre is based on the roof design of the main auditorium. This architectural design was an interpretation of the Sultan Qaboos Rose—a bespoke, genetically de-signed rose, named after His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

How strong is the events and exhibitions market in Oman currently? What are some of the major exhibitions planned for 2017/18?

Since opening in October 2016, we have successfully hosted 55 local, regional and international events and made significant strides towards developing the business events sector in Oman. Building a strong reputation as a key events’ destination, the OCEC has host-ed the international IGN Convention and the Output Exhibition for the government’s National Program for Enhancing Economic Diversification: Tanfeedh. The OCEC has also hosted a number of national and international exhibitions during the last few months, including Lebanese Week in Muscat, the Oman Bride Show, the Iran Solo Country Exhibition, the Oman Ophthalmic Conference, the Motor Show Oman 2016, the 7th United International Public Transport (UITP) and MENA Assembly & Training Sessions and the largest event in Oman: the Muscat International Book Fair. The OCEC is set to host a number of high profile events this year including Oman Downstream Exhibition & Conference, the International Medical Tourism Exhibition and Conference (IMTEC) plus Ghedex 2017 while many high-profile events including; the Oman Energy & Water Exhibition and Conference, Electro Oman, Infra Oman, Agro Oman, Edutrac and others.

How is Omran promoting Madinat Al Irfan to the region and the wider world?

Regionally, Oman is highly regarded as a visitor destination, but I think it’s fair to say that internationally there is still a lack of awareness about Oman and how it differs from other Gulf countries. Omran is delivering some of the nation’s most iconic projects, creating new destinations and unique experiences to benefit the social and economic growth of the Sultanate. The OCEC business development team has been busy promoting the center both regionally and internationally since 2011, focusing on key markets in the U.K., France, Benelux, Switzerland, Germany and India. With a skilled bidding process and development team, we have fought off strong international com-petition to host prestigious international events, including the 2019 International Society of Orthopaedic Surgery and Traumatology (SICOT) Orthopaedic World Congress which will attract up to 3,000 delegates. Although we have only been open for six months, I have been impressed with the reception from the international public. As we continue to grow and host more events, we will build a strong world-wide reputation as an exciting option for business events in the Middle East. Is tourism on the rise in Oman in general? How is the country attracting regional and global visitors?Tourism and particularly business events are expected to in-crease significantly in Oman throughout 2017. The World Travel & Tourism Council stated that Oman is the fastest growing tourism destination in the Middle East. Coupled with the opening of a number of new hotels and tourism projects the new Muscat International Airport will have been completed and open for an increasing number of international flights by the end of the year and Oman will have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the influx of additional visitors. Omran drives the investment, growth and development of the rapidly growing tourism sector in the Sultanate of Oman and the OCEC will have a major part to play in this vision.

Do you have plans for future expansion?

Work is progressing well with the second phase of development and the centre is on target to be fully operational in early 2018. This will house the impressive 3,200-seat theatre, along with a tiered-seat auditorium that will seat 450 delegates. The facility will be complimented by a range of meeting rooms, two sub-divisible ballrooms, extensive reg-istration and reception areas, VIP suites and visitor facilities supported by the existing 22,000 square meters of exhibition space, hospitality suites and car parking for 4,000 vehicles. The four-star Crowne Plaza and five-star JW Marriot will be completed this year and work has already started on the Omantel headquarters building in the Business Park. As we look ahead to our future, we remain focused on collaborating with local organizations and supporting SMEs, as well as positioning Oman as an appealing business events’ destination for global and regional busine