Madinat Al Irfan — the new business hub

Muscat: Madinat Al Irfan is set to become the new business hub of Muscat, as development on a host of projects continues to add more opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors.

Currently, pegged as one of the centres of the country’s economic expansion plans, Madinat Al Irfan is already home to the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, where a number of high profile conferences, exhibitions, trade fairs and entertainment events are held, providing visitors to Oman an opportunity what the country has to offer to them.

In addition, tourism is also being highlighted as a key point of expansion for Madinat Al Irfan, located just a short distance from many iconic landmarks of the country. Many prominent hotel chains have set up operations there and more are expected to open soon. Omran, the country’s tourism investment arm, is taking a personal interest in overseeing this development.

Talking exclusively to Times of Oman, Said Al Shanfari, Chief Executive Officer of the OCEC, said that with the developments at Madinat Al Irfan, it was clear that this would become the new centre of Muscat.

“Madinat Al Irfan is a new project on its own with unique characteristics. Situated inside Muscat and at the centre of the new Muscat, makes it a strategic city. In the past, Omran has been working very keenly on this project and built the OCEC as an icon for Madinat Al Irfan, but they also came up with the Crowne Plaza – a four-star hotel – next to the OCEC. Now, they are in the final stages of building the JW Marriott which is expected to be launched before the end of the year. In addition to that, they recently announced Ibis, a three-star hotel, which will start very soon in the coming months,” he said.

With the OCEC hosting 450 events, the visitors got an opportunity to see what Oman has to offer

“They also have a designated business area that already has Omantel and more buildings will be built in the area. This is very important as this represents the ecosystem of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry, and bringing all these factors together helps us at the OCEC to attract more international markets,” Al Shanfari said.

“As part of the full plan of Vision 2040, the airport was just launched two years ago and we have been very lucky with this development. More transportation systems have been made available – Mwasalat, the new highway that is being built up – from the infrastructure point of view, we are ready to compete internationally and ready to receive more and grow our economy from the aspect of tourism.”

Speaking about whether the vicinity around the OCEC could be regarded as a prime location in the future, Al Shanfari said it indeed would.

“That’s the aim – bringing Muscat to a new centre,” he explained. “This will be the new centre with Madinat Al Irfan and the infrastructure building around it, and centralising this location between Maabela and Ruwi. I think this will be the prime location in the coming years and hopefully with the new development of Madinat Al Irfan next door to us, we will see more progress taking place.”

Highlighting the journey of the relatively newly built OCEC, Al Shanfari said they’d taken ‘giant steps’, adding: “Since we started in 2016, we have taken big steps and as we call it ‘giant steps’. We have already hosted more than 20 international events that include congresses and conferences. But overall, we have hosted around 450 events including regional, small, and private sector events.”

“In the coming three years, we are planning to host around 23 other international conferences. For a young exhibition centre like the OCEC, it is a big achievement. We are aiming and continuing to bring more of these conferences to the country, the reason being to help diversify the economy, bring in international investors, and also help in finding a bigger ground for tourism,” Al Shanfari said.

He added that the MICE industry and tourism were big factors in adding to the growth of the GDP for tourism and economy, which was the reason behind the setting up of the centre, which had been assigned the objective of bringing in international businesses to the country.

In addition, Hilal Al Sarmi, the Shura member of Wilayat of Seeb said: “Certainly, such big projects provide a commercial, economic and tourist attraction to the area, but these large projects have not yet reached the required level of influence to contribute to the revitalisation of the commercial growth and the level of employment.

“We hope that these projects coincide and link with other projects, associated activities and local markets. Therefore, we call on concerned government authorities to make sure that these projects will achieve the added value and have direct cooperation with local markets in the surrounding Wilayats,” he added. “On the other hand, these projects should look into employing the locals residing in the area so that employment is created. This in turn will create sustainable movement in these projects as well.”

Hassan Al Ruqeishi, the head of the real estate development committee at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “For the real estate sector, the laws have to be reviewed and amended to motivate investors to buy and sell.”