Oman hopes for tourism boom as new $1.8 billion airport opens
Oman's long-awaited new airport officially opened Tuesday after long delays and spiralling costs, but with hopes it will help transform the sultanate in a post-oil age.
With a "silent terminal", robots directing passengers, and a number of green initiatives, the $1.8 billion is seen as a remarkable face-lift for Oman at a crucial new chapter for the country.
Muscat airport will likely boost tourism, which is seen as key to the diversification of the country's oil-reliant economy.
Oman's government hopes it will be among the top 20 airports in the world by 2020.
Tourism numbers are expected to jump by 60 percent next year with the introduction of the new airport.
Muscat airport will be able to handle 40 flights an hour with 40 gates and 86 check-in counters.
Three development phases are expected to boost the number of passengers at the airport to 24 million, 36 million and finally 48 million.
It is already capable of handling 12 million passengers, a ten-fold jump from its old airport, which will be converted into a flight school.
Oman has invested billions into its tourism industry with a host of new hotels and other facilities opening in the sultanate. Muscat is targeting upper-income travellers and is viewed as an expensive, but luxurious destination.
Low oil prices, dwindling oil reserves, the high cost of running the government and a growing population has made it crucial for the tourism industry - and other sectors - to thrive.
Oman faces challenges with high unemployment, competition from other new airports in the region, and potential economic slowdowns in neighbouring countries and China could hit the sultanate's growth programme.
Tourism operators have also complained that the introduction of new visa restrictions and a shrinking expatriate population could also damage growth.
But for now, there is excitement in the air at Muscat's ultra-modern airport.