With worries over job stability spreading, many expatriates in the Sultanate have decided to ‘staycation’ instead of taking a long vacation abroad, says Alvin Thomas, who also finds the best spots to have a relaxing holiday in Oman.
Alex*, 37, is a self-proclaimed Indophile – a person who loves India, its culture, the history, its people and, above all, his home.
Working as an accounts manager with a Muscat bank for the past 14 years, he has managed to visit his hometown of Kochi, in Kerala, once every six months for a fortnight without fail. He’s done with his family every year he has lived in the Sultanate.
“Flying back home was an annual routine for me and my family,” Alex says.
He lives in Oman with his wife, Sneha, and their two children.
“These were welcome breaks for me and my family as it helped us unload our work pressure and also gave us time to cool off.
“The day my kids were done with school, we [Alex and his children] would be out of the country.
“Of course, my wife would come separately as her job (as a marketing executive in an IT solutions company) is a bit more demanding.”
However, in an unfortunate turnaround of events, he and his family will not be going back home this year. Instead, they will be doing what a larger number of people are having to do this summer – “staycationing”, or staying in Oman and spending their holiday here.
“We’re deciding against leaving Oman this year,” a doleful Alex says. “This will be the first time in 13 years that we have not visited our home town.
“We’re the sort of people who book our tickets six to eight months in advance.”
A few months ago, Alex’s employer let go of 14 of the company’s top-level expatriate
(Indian, Pakistani and British) managers in
place of a younger workforce at a fraction of their salaries.
While Alex escaped his company’s lay-offs, he’s still scared for his job.
“My leave had been due this June,” he says. “But I decided to stay back and carry on working in case they decided to let more people go. My absence would make it easier for them to clear my desk, wouldn’t it?”
It is clear that Alex is afraid he may lose his job, but his wife Sneha is also in a similar position.
Sneha had departed for her home town in Kerala alone, having left behind her husband and children, to visit her ageing parents. Six days into her 28-day vacation, her colleague told her that her company was downsizing staff before any renewal of contracts.
She says: “You cannot take distress calls like this lightly any more, not in this economic situation. I’ve been fearing for my job for over a year-and-a-half now.”
Fearing for her job, Sneha cut short her holiday and returned to Oman. Luckily, her job was safe but her concern is understandable. A year ago, she was promoted to the position of marketing executive with no additional pay or benefits.
“To be honest, we’ve been living a life of austerity, the past year. We sold our SUV, and deposited a nice portion of our funds in India should there be an emergency.”
“We’ve [Alex and Sneha] also started looking for jobs in Qatar.”
In truth, Alex and Sneha aren’t the only ones deferring their annual vacations.
According to a manager from a leading travel firm in the Sultanate, many expatriates from Asia are staying in Oman as their feared their jobs were at risk.
He points to a 10 to 15 per cent fall in the number of expatriates travelling between various destinations in India and Oman from the same period last year.
“There is a definite dip in travellers [travelling to Asia] this year, in comparison to 2015-2016,” he says.“We haven’t analysed why there is this dip but I’m positive it has to do with the recent oil crisis that have left many out of a job.”
He continues: “A flight ticket [return] from India costs on average RO250. And people are not in a situation where they can shell out that much money for one ticket alone.
“People have changed their mindsets now. I think it is saving, above anything else,” he says, adding that he and his family are not vacationing this year either.
However, despite the decline in travelling expats, the manager says that many flights between Oman and India are booked out, with little or no seats at all, until late July.
“We don’t have tickets for people travelling using Emirates and Oman Air,” he says.
He adds that there is a definite increase in the number of expatriates cancelling their Omani visas.
“Today [Monday, July 4], I have had to book flights for six expatriates, from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, leaving the country for good.”
The National Centre for Statistics & Information (NCSI) confirms this.
Recent statistics from June 2016 to July 2016 show a decrease of 33,683 expatriates residing in Oman, a 0.6 per cent dip, from 2,013,079 to 1,979,396.
However, the travel manager does point out that a number of expats leaving the country may also come back for new jobs and on new visas.
However, many expats are also claiming that they are staying in the Sultanate to experience the various “shades of Oman”.
Camilla, a teacher in a private school in Oman says: “My husband and I will be touring Oman this month.
“We’ve read so much about the Western Hajar Mountain ranges and we’re excited to go there. We even hear it’s cold there.”
Camilla and her husband, who live in Wadi Kabir, hope to visit Jebel Akhdar and also see Duqm and finally Salalah for the Khareef season.
“I’ve been in Oman since 2010 and it has been a dream of mine to tour the country,” she says.
“With anxiety about the job stability spreading, I think it would be wiser if expats stayed within the country. They could save a bundle of cash if they were to stay within Oman.”
Oman has many places where you can cool off this summer. Here’s Y’s top 10 spots to visit if you’re one of the many ‘staycationers’ in the Sultanate this year:
Jebel Shams, nicknamed the “Mountain of Sun”, is located in northeastern Oman, north of the town of Al Hamra. It forms part of the Al Hajar Mountains and, at 3,009 metres, it is the highest peak in the country. A popular sightseeing location, thousands of visitors flock there every month. About 240km from Muscat, it’s easily reached from the capital. In the summer, the temperature is about 20 degrees Celsius –perfect for picnics – while in the winter, it drops to below zero.
Jebel Akhdar, the “Green Mountain”, is also a part of the Al Hajar Mountains in Ad Dakhiliyah Governorate. Known for its temperate climate and picturesque verdant scenery, the mountain is a prime spot for vacationers in Oman. Just a two-and-half hour drive from Muscat, it makes an ideal day trip. Take your own picnic or have lunch at the exquisite Alila Jebel Akhdar Resort. Rising to a height of 2,980m, it’s compulsory to have a 4×4 vehicle to go up the mountain.
If you’ve lived in Oman long, you’d know that Salalah is one of the most beautiful and unique spots in the country during Khareef season. The second-largest city in the Sultanate, as well as the largest city in the Governorate of Dhofar, the area turns green every July when the monsoon rains come. Khareef Festival, an annual event that commemorates the rains and attracts tourists from around the world, is also held from July to September. A drive from the capital to Salalah may take up to 12 hours so ensure your car is in good condition before starting the journey. It is also advisable not to drive alone. Alternatively, you can also take a flight or a bus to the city.
Located in Al Sharqiyah, Wadi Shab continues to be one of the most sought-after wadis in the Sultanate. It is a popular attraction for both expats and locals, due to its serene waters and voluminous waterfalls inside the caves (yes, there are caves!). It takes approximately two hours to reach Wadi Shab from the capital. But you don’t require a 4×4 so it is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to spend some time away from the busy cities.
Sur is a city where you can capture the traditions of Oman. Once known as an important destination point for sailors coming in from the Far East, it’s around a three-hour drive from Muscat. While there, you can head towards the Maritime Museum or Ras al Hadd, a location famed for its turtle watching. The Ras al Hadd corniche also boasts some beautifully crafted dhows.
With clear, emerald-tinted waters and dramatic cliff faces, it’s quite an experience to swim at Bimmah Sinkhole. Located at Bayt al Afreet, the sinkhole has a 20-metre depth ideal for taking cooling dips. The ground beneath the hole has been formed from dissolved rocks such as limestone, carbonates and salt beds. It’s close to Wadi Shab and the location by the beach is easily accessible for non-4×4 vehicles.
Masirah is a small island off the east coast of Oman. The isle is 95km long and 14km wide, and only has 12,000 residents. It opened for tourism only recently, and the only way in is by ferry. However, there is a four-star hotel in the vicinity. The island is also susceptible to monsoon winds and is said to be one of the best kitesurfing spots in the world. If you’re looking to shed a kilo or two, you can also trek across the length of the isle. To reach Masirah, you will have to drive to Shannah to get the ferry.
Wadi Dayqah Dam is perhaps one of the most sought-after family picnic spots in the country. Accessing the dam is easy; just take the 90km-long scenic drive from Wadi Adai. Daqyqah Dam consists of two dams: the main one is 75m high, and the second one is an earthen dam at 48.5m high. The main dam includes a tower for water drainage.
Visit a world-renowned nesting site for green turtles at this reserve on the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula. About a three-and-a-half hour journey from Muscat, the trip takes you along the stunning Sur coast road, past Fins Beach and Wadi Shab. It’s peak season for turtles now, with adult females coming ashore to lay their eggs. Stay at the reserve in one of the rooms or in the luxury eco-lodges on site. The price includes two guided tours of the beach where you’ll see adult turtles and the baby hatchlings heading to the sea. A magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience on your doorstep. For information and bookings, contact 9655 0606/9655 0707, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
One of the most popular wadis in Oman, it’s well known for its natural beauty and year-round water flowing from a natural spring. Located in the Sharqiyah region about 203km from Muscat, it makes for a great day out with family, friends or solo. A drive through mountains, villages and plantations, and a short walk brings you to a beautiful spot with water, and small café. It’s a great place for a picnic or a relaxing swim. Venture further and the water becomes crystal clear. Alternatively, just sit back and watch the fearless local boys jumping off the high bridges into the water below.