Thursday, September 24, 2009

What is Oman really good at?

Eid Mubarak everyone. The Government declared a 9 day national holiday for Eid, and it's great. The bars are open again, I can eat out at my favorite places and eat pork and consume alcohol for lunch without having to check into an excellent local hotel, smoke in public, .... etc.

Eid for most Omanis is well described at Dhofari Gucci.

Photo: An Aussie Businessman

Meanwhile, I was pondering the natural advantages Oman has (and hasn't). For example, in Australia, there is a huge surfing and beach culture, so they also are home to many top businesses serving surfers - clothes, boards, etc.

Same for say, skiing in the Alps of Europe. Again, these countries host locally major international winter sporting goods manufacturers, export ski and snowboard instructors, host resorts.

So, what is Oman good at? Where is our local equivalent of Billabong or Atomic? What's our Ricardian natural advantage? How can Oman compete with countries like Vietnam, despite having a population with, shall we say, a totally different work ethic?

- Fishing?

It should be. The fishing used to be AMAZING in Oman. Of late one hears tales from Expat and Omani alike of a dearth of good big fish, excepting the offshore Dhofar perhaps. But shouldn't we be manufacturing really good fishing gear? Running more fishing oriented tourism? Exporting talent, in the way of Arabic speaking Captains for the (much bigger) Red Sea or Mediterranean markets? Processing fish properly here to export direct to prime markets like Japan, USA and China? Are we even properly running our fisheries? Are we world experts on running a fishery? Marine Biology?

- Trauma care.
This is a no brainer, definitely.

Oman has one of the world's highest rates of death and injury on the roads. We should have a specialist Trauma and Emergency Surgery Teaching hospital here. ET and Military surgeons from all over the world could train here. We can export trained expert Omani Doctors and Nurses (again, who speak Arabic and English). At the rate we seem to be going, there is no danger of running out of stupid Omani boys in really fast cars who don't know how to drive responsibly and safely. Already, Koula Hospital is world famous for having lots of fantastic wet work and gets a lot of visiting surgeons.

We could be developing medical equipment, treatment, etc.

- Um
What else? Goats and dates, obviously. I've commented on the business opportunities for dates previously. The opportunities are not huge, but hey, people need cereal.

- Oh, Sand and surf, obviously.
Hence OMRAAN, Blue City, the Wave, BAJ, Asian Games, etc, etc, etc. If only the people building these Hotel and Tourism developments, and working there and living in them, were Omanis. We would also need to be exporting trained F&B and Tourism staff, not importing them.

- Sailing?
But then why drop the ball on the America's Cup, have few good marinas, and hardly support the local sailors? How many of our victorious crews in Catamaran sailing are Omani? Could Oman become a 'New Zealand of the Middle East' for Sailing? Maybe. But not the way its going. Again, can you really forsee Omanis building world class racing boats, or tourist craft? Heck, even our local fishing boats are imported from the UAE. Pathetic.

Then, I started to run out of ideas. There's lots of things we know we aren't good at, [Education, Media, growing food, ...] - I think we import waaaaay too much, of everything. But I'm not talking about basic import substitution (although I think we need to do a hell of a lot more of that too).

Where is that expertise, the professionalism? A thing where people all over the world, people with money, would eventually say,
"Oh, look at that, Omani. Excellent choice. That is really good shit. "

Perhaps a School of Government, like the ones in New York, France and UK?

Readers? Any thoughts?


  1. You have touched on a very important topic.

    I would say Dates. Become a major re-export hub with the Oman-US/EU FTA.

    Fisheries/Dates. Possibly frankincense?, Tourism hub. High tech research - increase investments in Higher education. Everytime Oman signs a contract they should ask for ToT, so that Omani's can try and make some things locally. That should set the ball rolling over time.

    Healthcare training in Oman isn't that great. Most Omani doctors prefer to go to the UK/US for training and return after 3-5 years.

    Kimji does do some manufacturing in Oman I believe.

    School of government is interesting. With all the military infrastructure in oman, perhaps Oman should ask for training facilities, like the KASOTC in Jordan. Omani special forces are heading there for training, maybe we can build a specialist school for desert warfare, or unconventional warfare (training for Af-Pak type situation?). India has the specialist Jungle warfare schools, where special forces come from around the world to train. Brunei used for training by the British SAS, Singaporeans.

  2. I always thought that Oman offered an illusionary (or virtual) sense of freedom and liberty that somehow I find diminished in my India...
    perhaps it is after all an illusion...

    School of Government is interesting, more after Sidi's explaination...but I think it will never be so...

  3. you really should visit Darsait. There you can find a part of Oman which is so different.


    Am bored of every thing in Muscat, and actually those religious people wont want any thing like you said.

  4. Did somebody mention Singapore above? Not a bad example. Almost 45 years ago, after independence, it had almost nothing; a tiny island with no natural resources, no industry and a growing unemployment problem. Smart leadership created a trade hub and a manufacturing base for foreign companies attracted by low taxes, cheap labour and a well trained work force inculcated with values of quality and punctuality. Compulsory national service instilled a sense of nation – a chance to work, train and live together.

    Economic ambition lead to the creation of home-grown companies under the leadership of civil servants given crash courses in business skills. Singapore Airlines was one such venture, now legendary for its service, quality and reliability. Singapore is one of the best places in the world to do business, has one of the best ports, has one of the finest international airports and attracts around 10 million tourists a year.

    They didn’t do it by pinning their hopes on a handful of tourist complexes with expensive hotels, plastic forts and golf courses.

  5. Something MASSIVE needs to be done in Oman. Government needs to spend a lot of money on higher education and developing the institutions. The KSA has been doing an exceptional job in this, from what I am told of people who work in universities there.

  6. Two more things that Oman is good at producing:
    1. Raja mattresses and beds, including the custom models of international brands (e.g. Simmons) for various 5+* hotels in the UAE and Oman, as well as the regular Raja brand products; and
    2. Amouage perfumes, as well as Omani frankincense, flowers, and other natural ingredients. These are sought after by fragrance connoisseurs all over the world.

    I agree with Sidi that there needs to be massive government spending on higher education in Oman. High school graduates are getting better and better, but national colleges and universities are underdeveloped and intellectually dormant. Modern new buildings need to be built or old ones thoroughly renovated. A lot more R & D activity. More important than massive spending on infrastructure, however, is the willingness of government and institutional officials to effect changes in how their colleges and universities are run. Mini-sheikhdoms and overstaffed, inefficient admin departments thwart the smooth progress of even the most routine processes like salary payments and equipment repair. Faculty department heads can stagnate in their positions for years and years. How will they manage or accept institutional change? Recently, a national assessment of Oman’s higher ed institutions was completed by an international team of assessors. How candidly will the results be reported? And are campus officials really prepared to reject traditions of wasta and leisurely civil-service working habits and hours to get innovations pushed through? The government is willing to massively subsidize top students, faculty, and admin officials (many with their families) to attend grad school or training overseas and then come back to cozy, secure jobs at their university or college. That isn’t enough.

  7. Re what I just posted: it's unfair for me to describe campuses as intellectually dormant, as I don't speak Arabic and there may be more going on and being discussed than I realize. But on the whole, students I know don't seem as engaged with their studies or as interested in expanding their knowledge beyond whatever is required in their particular college as most American or European university students I have worked with. Very few have told me they do much extended reading (in any language) outside of class work.

  8. maybe Oman could become a center of excellence at laziness, corruption, self-interest, nepotism, buck-passing, media-blackouts, consumption, reckless driving, quick-fixes, self-congratulation, under-achievement, and importantly delusion.
    This could be the goal up to the point where they run-out of the black stuff and then the country can descend into chaos (think Yemen).
    I'm sure the wealthy elite will offer lots of support from...say.....London...or ....Switzerland.

  9. hmmm...interesting.

    In doha, where I am currently, they import just about EVERYTHING. I was so happy to find a package of Omani Chicken. It is far superior to the crap they bring in the frozen section...and even locally. I told everyone I knew where I found it and to get some. I returned and it was all gone. I know it is stupid...but the chicken from Oman is really superior to many brands.

    The other thing that Oman needs to do is figure out a way to promote the diving industry. I've dived in Oman...I've dived in Bali. Some of Bali's BEST spots...and I would say Oman is definitely superior. No argument. Even after gonu - I saw barracuda, turtles, exotic fish I don't even know what they were as well as tons and tons of eel...lots of different kind. Certainly there could be gear manufacturing going on there.

    Great topic.

  10. Unfortunately the diving is being ground away; the new glass bottomed boat draft is so deep that it literally is scraping away the Coral reef from the top down at Bandar Khiran.
    When it arrives in the Damaniyats where the Coral is even closer to the surface

  11. Nice post OO, very subtle and diplomatic (possibly a touch TOO subtle...)


  12. ... and it went straight over Farmer Joe's head, for one.

  13. that was sarcasm omanobserver......with a touch of stone-throwing at the obvious.....not over my head at all.
    Your comments are super insightful tho....thanks for sharing.

  14. EXCELLENT fishing on Masirah island. A four hour drive from Muscat, this island is a little gem. A well kept secret from the few who have discovered it, but not for long I fear as the government have built a hotel and it is being run by Swiss Bel-hotel Group. We had an amazing day out fishing down there and you can hire a superb boat with a competent, well informed guy at the helm. Food and drinks included in very reasonable price. Surfing is also getting popular down there. Turtle watchers can see four different species also. But if you want to go serious fishing Masirah is the place to go. WONDERFUL.

  15. Last time I went to Masirah it took 9hrs to get to our campsite, after waiting for the ferry for 3hrs...

    World class spelunking - caves you can get into both by foot and by rope.

  16. This is still a valid post and comments section. Weird huh? And still we talk about Omanisation.


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