Muscat – The Ministry of Heritage and Tourism (MHT) started a novel initiative this year of hosting festivals unique to each governorate with the objective of boosting tourism in remote corners of the sultanate and make Oman a year-round tourism destination.

These festivals are intended to stimulate local tourism, promote heritage and natural elements, and add value to the local community by supporting small and medium enterprises.

Starting on January 19, Muscat Festival – re-branded as Muscat Nights – returned after three years. The 17-day festivities took place at four locations: Qurum Gardens, Naseem Park, Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre and Oman Automobile Association.

Ahmed bin Mohammed al Hamidi, Chairman of Muscat Municipality, said, “The goal of Muscat Nights 2023 is not limited to entertainment alone; it is set to promote domestic tourism as well and support local industries by providing a space for social and cultural interaction.”

One of the main ideas behind organising Muscat Nights was to encourage people to visit parks and be with nature, Hamidi added.

The Sohar Winter Festival at Souq Sohar was also held in January – 21 to February 4. Ahmed bin Mohammed al Balushi, Deputy Wali of Sohar and Chairman of the Organising Committee, said, “The festival had more than 45 cultural, entertainment and shopping activities, in addition to various competitions. The committee allocated more than 40 stalls for families engaged in cottage industries in the souq during the fest.”

This was followed by the Empty Quarter Festival in the wilayat of Thumrait, Dhofar from January 25 to February 3. The festival aimed to promote the governorate as a sustainable tourist destination, in addition to highlighting the potential of winter tourism to attract investors.

The Desert Adventures Festival in Sharqiyah Sands, in the wilayat of Bidiyah, North Sharqiyah from January 29 to February 4, was another successful event that saw thousands of tourists enjoying the famous sand dunes.

According to H E Azzan Qasim al Busaidi, Undersecretary for Tourism in the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, the desert festival aims to revitalise winter tourism in North Sharqiyah, the wilayat of Bidiyah in particular.

“Such festivals stimulate local tourism, promote heritage and tourism sites, highlight the sultanate’s mark on the tourism map, and create added value for the local community by supporting small and medium enterprises,” said H E Azzan.

The inaugural Maritime Heritage Festival was held from February 3 to 19 in the wilayat of Sur, South Sharqiyah. It highlighted the historical and current role of Sur as a hub for ship building activities.

The festival included the Maritime Heritage Village to narrate an account of the wilayat’s storied past. An Omani Food Carnival at the festival hosted a series of interactive activities that allowed visitors to explore renowned Omani and international dishes, with a focus on fresh local seafood.

Visitors to the festival experienced simulation of the historical voyages of Omani ships.

The annual Dakhliyah Festival was held from February 23 to March 4, which included several cultural, heritage, entertainment and adventure activities unique to the governorate.

As summer approached, the focus turned to Dhofar. Almost 1mn people visited the governorate during the three-month khareef season that offered an array of events and celebrations.

The second edition of Jabal Akhdar Festival, held from August 3 to 19, attracted over 60,000 enthusiasts from both within and outside Oman.

The festival offered attendees a refreshing experience amidst scenic hills and pleasant summer weather, painting a panorama of pristine nature combined with an engaging family environment.

The event, a collaboration between the Governorate of Dakhliyah and the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, witnessed an array of activities that catered to all age groups. There were sections dedicated to children, youth, Omani cuisine, local farmers of Jabal Akhdar and one where children immersed in the culinary world with Omani chefs.

The festival’s entertainment segment included international theatre shows like ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Chemical Science’. Adventure enthusiasts were treated to the Jabal Akhdar Mountain Bike Race, a tourist walk and the Himam Trail Run. Paragliding performances further elevated the festival’s thrill factor.

Ahmed bin Salem al Toubi, Director General of Administrative and Financial Affairs in Dakhliyah, described the festival as a success. “It served as a platform to highlight our diverse services and development projects in Jabal Akhdar,” he said.

Toubi informed that 34 institutions and 45 productive families participated in the festival and added that the governorate actively gathered visitor feedback to further enhance the festival’s offerings in its future editions.

Film festival showcase cultural richness

In a strategic move initiated by Oman Film Society (OFS), the sultanate is hosting an array of film festivals. The effort is geared towards nurturing the younger generation’s talent in filmmaking, and spotlighting the diverse social and cultural dimensions of Omani life. These festivals, which began in mid-September and extend till March, are a testament to the nation’s burgeoning interest in cinema.

According to Jamil al Yaqoobi, Chairman of OFS, the society is dedicated to presenting stories rooted in Omani history and culture. “Over the past few years, we’ve discovered remarkable talent who we support through workshops and seminars.”

The 2023-2024 circuit started with the second edition of the Dakhliyah Film Festival in mid-September in Al Hamra, where nearly 50 Arab and international films vied for recognition over four days, accompanied by various artistic and cinematic events.

The Batinah International Film Festival, held from November 12 to 15, embraced the theme ‘Human Relationship with the Land’, reflecting Oman’s deep connection with its environment. Mohammed bin Abdullah al Ajmi, the festival’s director, described it as a creative melting pot for filmmakers to showcase their work and exchange ideas. He emphasised cinema’s vital role in narrating stories and reinforcing cultural bonds.

The Dhahirah International Film Festival will be held in December.

Highlighting the success of the Dhahirah festival, the society’s chairman Yaqoobi informed that the last edition attracted 175 films from 18 countries. “We were taken aback by the enormous response for a festival in a relatively remote region. We anticipate over 200 entries this year.”

The next edition of the Sharqiyah International Film Festival will be held in January 2024. The previous edition held in January 2023 saw participation of nearly 120 film. Anwar al Ruzaiqi, Festival Director, is optimistic about more films – particularly from the Arab world – in the next edition.

The 2023-2024 film festival season will conclude with the much-anticipated Muscat International Film Festival, scheduled from March 3 to 7. Known for attracting global cinema stars, this festival is a high point in Oman’s cultural calendar, showcasing the nation’s growing film industry and its contribution to global cinema.

These festivals highlight Oman’s commitment to cultural enrichment and its evolving role as a cradle for artistic and cinematic talent.

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