Jebel Sifah

I was offered a ride on the catamaran SY Azzura last Thursday to the new marina at Jebel Sifah. The developers of this Integrated Tourism Complex (ITC) are Muriya, and the company was holding a 'soft' opening of the marina. We arrived around 2pm, moored up, and took a walk around the marina and surrounding village.

The heart of this new development is a central plaza, around which are located a cluster of apartment buildings, which eventually will have shops and restaurants on the ground floor, open to the public spaces. The plaza abuts the water and when this is full of boats, it should create an impressive sight. The model here is based on the Egyptian development at El Gouna, which was created by Orascom, the 70 per cent shareholder in Muriya.  El Gouna and Jebel Sifah are similar in that both sites have a mountainous backdrop, which at Sifah is quite spectacular, particularly as the sun goes down.

The boutique Sifawy Hotel is open and was serving lunch both inside and outside, close to the marina. Other hotels are planned in this resort - Four Seasons, Banyan Tree, and Missoni. The majority of the retail units are currently empty, looking for tenants, and Muriya is offering very advantageous deals to attract operators. 

The key to the future success of this ITC is to improve the accessibility of the location. The road from Muscat is mountainous and dangerous along its 40km route. Plans for a new modern highway, linking Muscat to Sifah, have just been announced. When open, this will make a major contribution to the attraction of Jebel Sifah. A water taxi service does exist, and Muriya is in talks with the National Ferry Company to start an intercity water transport service.

The Sifah ITC is more than twice the land size of The Wave. The bay in which it is located is beautiful, and has been a favourite place for people to visit and camp for many years. I support, generally, the ITC concept as a way to make it attractive for tourists to visit Oman, and to create jobs and wealth for the local population. The theory is that the Jebel Sifah development, utilising the strength of the shareholders Orascom and Omran, will compete on the world stage. For this to happen, the properties must be attractively priced, having regard to competition from similar developments in western and eastern Europe, North African countries, and the USA. And the quality of build must also be comparable. I saw some areas where more attention is needed with the standard of construction execution.

The sheer scale of Jebel Sifah leads me to the conclusion that the Muriya team have a real challenge ahead.  The demand to buy real estate is still weak. Some apartments, around the marina, have been selling, which is positive. Of recent times, very few villas have sold. The challenge that Muriya has must be recognised, and help must be given wherever possible by the authorities. It is critical that Jebel Sifah is given major government support.

As we sailed away from the marina, I reflected how different the tourism and real estate market is from when I first came to Oman in 2006, the year when Muriya was established.  Jebel Sifah is, fundamentally, a tourism development. The Ministry of Tourism must step up to the plate, and lead the way in ensuring that all the Ministries and organisations involved with this significant project are doing all that they can, in a co-ordinated way, to maximise the chances of it succeeding.

Nick lives and works in Muscat and the views expressed in this column are entirely his own. You can e-mail Nick at nick.smith@apexmedia.co.om

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