Salalah, Oman – Tourists crowd atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the aqua seascape of Taqah, smiling as their Omani guide snaps a photo.
Down the coastal road towards Salalah, visitors pause by a row of tropical fruit stands to snack on fresh bananas and sip coconut water.
In this desert paradise, regional tensions seem to drift away. War is raging across the border in neighbouring Yemen, and Oman’s fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members are locked in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis – but on a recent afternoon, visitors to Salalah were simply enjoying the sunshine and stunning scenery.
“Oman is one of the safest places in the world,” said German tourist Thomas Fink. “I wasn’t worried at all about coming here.”
Local tour operator Yousaf al-Mahrooqi, who organises diving, fishing and camping trips, noted that visitor numbers have been steadily growing as word has spread about Oman as a safe haven in a troubled region.
In the early 1990s, “when I used to take one diver to Mirbat a week, I was like, ‘Yes!’ … [Since then], the place got to be known as a diving destination,” he told Al Jazeera.
Today, competition for tourist dollars has increased as more visitors flock to Oman. The country, which drew 1.9 million visitors in 2015, is in the midst of an ambitious strategy to add another 800,000 annually by 2020.
“I can see it in the market,” Mahrooqi said. “I can how the cruise ships are coming now … Every diving centre, each day they are taking up to 20 people.”
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