Breaking Taboos: Omani women as tourist guides
The Ministry of Tourism is paying attention to tourist guides as they are partners in implementing plans and strategies to improve the tourism sector.
They play an active role in pushing the wheels of tourism in the Sultanate. The ministry is encouraging these tourist guides as they are interested in the development of the tourism sector.
As of June 2018, the number of licensed tourist guides has reached 340. Among them 232 are Omani tourist guides spread across all the governorates of the Sultanate. The ministry also licensed 83 local guides, according to the data of the tourist guidance department of the Ministry of Tourism. It shows that there is an increase in the number of applications of Omanis who are interested in receiving licenses to work as tourist guides. At present, more and more Omani women are showing keen interest in working as tourist guides now than in the past.
Rafeeda Al Ruwahiyah, a woman tourist guide, said that the work of tourist guide is full of fun and involves opportunities of exploration and improvement. This is an area which requires a deep knowledge, trust and confidence as well as a cheerful and warm personality. There is strong competition among tourist guides to highlight the Sultanate in a beautiful manner. Under this process, I encountered several tourist and heritage sites that are rich with Omani culture and diverse attractive geographic components of the country, which have the potential to be destinations for foreign tourists.
She said that the Sultanate was rich in its cultural heritage. Its geographic diversity extends from its Musandam in the north to Dhofar in the south, which includes deserts, beaches, seas, plains and mountains. The tour guides should have knowledge and experience of the locations, a strong and cheerful personality, and an intuitive mind to be quick in solving problems faced during a journey. They should be able to open their hearts to welcome tourists of all age groups from different nationalities.
About the future of tourism guidance, Rafeeda said that this profession is limited only to citizens as they possess vast knowledge and experience on the cultural practices of our country.
When asked if the profession of tourist guides is financially feasible, she said that there were massive financial and material benefits as well as information.
Mai bint Salim bin Khalaf Al Kaabiyah, a fourth year student of the Oman Tourism College, who works as a tourist guide, said “I started work as a tourist guide when I was doing my second year in Oman Tourism College and was studying a paper on tourism guidance. I applied to the Ministry of Tourism for license of tourist guide and I got it. She said her experience in tourism guidance is fulfilling and fun. I get the opportunity to meet guests from outside Oman, and this develops the relations between countries. This also provides an opportunity to exchange cultures and learn vocabulary of new languages. As a tourist guide, I also developed some skills; for example, skills to lead large groups of tourists and abide by time schedules. During the work, I also came to know about Oman’s tourist destinations closely and understood all their details.
Mai Al Kaabiyah said that the Sultanate had a lot of elements that make it a major tourist destination. It has a unique diversity, such as natural components including seas, mountains and deserts. We should not forget about Omani citizens who are also one of the basic components due their generosity and hospitality, which make it different from other countries.
She said the Omani tourist guides would have a brilliant future if they knew French, German and Italian languages as well. The national manpower in the tourism guidance wants more tourists and more women tourist guides in future. She said that tourism guidance has financial returns for the guide. They play a major cultural role by participating and marketing this country around the world. This is great source of income for male and female students as they do not have permanent job during their studies.
Fatima Al Balushiah, a tourist guide, shared her experience saying that it was a wonderful work she was doing. She has learnt a lot and received lots of benefits. She developed confidence while talking to tourists and learnt how to organise and schedule activities to make a tour successful. We also give a positive picture of our country. This helps us win the trust of tourists as we satisfy them with all that we present to them. I learnt how to handle responsibility of as much as 40 tourists at a time.
About tourism guidance, there is a saying that "if you do not open your heart to welcome all human beings, you will not be able to become a tourist guide." This profession is a guiding profession; therefore, the guide must have qualities to represent the society and the country in front of tourists. The most important thing is the confidence and trust which a tourist guide has, in addition to the communication skills, time management, and loyalty to the profession.
Fatima Al Balushiyah said that many students finish university education and want to work in the area which they have studied. Many are still looking for job. Many job seekers can work in this area as it provides material returns as we can work for more than one tourism companies in various types of tours.
The Ministry is trying to inculcate sense of quality standards in the profession of tourism guidance. It also wants to create awareness among those who work in the area and support them to develop competitive skills at the local level. The ministry also encourages them to abide by quality standards set for better performance and continuous improvement. This is basic for the tourism industry as it gives a positive picture to tourists and attracts them to visit the Sultanate again.