Oman plans year-round mountain destination

27 March 2024

Much is changing in Oman as the sultanate launches a series of cities and destinations as part of Oman Vision 2040.

These projects form part of the Oman National Spatial Strategy (ONSS), which was approved by Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq in March 2021 to direct urban growth in the sultanate for the next 20 years.

The ONSS, which is part of the Housing & Urban Planning Ministry, is responsible for making sure Oman’s projects are set in the best locations, as well as with overseeing the development of a new generation of futuristic cities across the sultanate.

“We started with a pilot project,” says Ibrahim Waili, executive director of the ONSS. 

“At first we called it Seeb City. It is now called Sultan Haitham City and was publicly launched last year. We have sold phase one to real estate developers, and they are launching sales. It is a big deal. People are already buying, and we are already building the infrastructure.”

Sultan Haitham City covers an area of 14.8 square kilometres and is designed to accommodate 100,000 people, with housing options including detached and semi-detached villas, townhouses and flats. A total of 20,000 housing units are planned.

Other projects in the pipeline include cities in Nizwa, Salalah and Sohar. “These cities will together deliver something in the range of 60,000 real estate units. There are 20,000 in Sultan Haitham City. The rest vary between 10,000 and 15,000 units,” says Waili.

Mountain escape

The most recent project to be officially announced was the Omani Mountain Destination (OMD) in February. It is
a new development planned for Jebel Al Akhdar, which is a mountain in the Omani interior, located 150 kilometres from Muscat. 

The project began as an idea when Sultan Haitham visited his assets in the area shortly after becoming sultan in 2020. After the visit, he decided to use his land to create a global destination.

“It is a prime location because it is at the peak of Jebel Al Akhdar,” says Waili. 

The altitude is crucial because it offers a cooler retreat for people looking to escape the extreme heat of summer in the Gulf.

“The temperature difference between the peak and Muscat, and other areas at sea level, is about 10 degrees. It is also about another 2 degrees cooler than the rest of the mountain because it is at an elevation of 2,400-2,500 metres.”

Canadian engineering firm AtkinsRealis prepared the masterplan for the $2.4bn destination, which includes 2,537 housing units, 2,000 hotel rooms and a health and wellness village known as the Vessel.

The development will also include a biodiversity centre, a high-altitude sports training centre, amphitheatres, a museum and parks.

“The government will act as the master developer, and will sell land to third-party real estate developers,” says Waili. “We already have investors that want to build,” he adds.

Traditionally, property ownership on the mountain was restricted to people from Jebel Al Akhdar. The OMD will differ, and property will be sold to other Omanis and foreign nationals. 

“The masterplan has been designed to hold a festival for up to 30,000 people,” says Waili.

“Because of the weather that we have there – it’s zero degrees in winter and 25 degrees in summer – we can have different types of activities and festivals all year round, and that will make it a unique location in the Arabian Peninsula. 

“We are going to have our own Davos,” he adds.

It’s zero degrees in winter and 25 degrees in summer … that will make it a unique location in the Arabian Peninsula
Ibrahim Waili, ONSS

Boosting accessibility

Improved access will also help boost the destination’s appeal. 

Although at present Jebel Al Akhdar is only accessible from a road to the south of the mountain, located in the Nizwa area, with the new development there is a plan to also open up access onto the mountain from the north.

This will significantly cut journey times from the most densely populated areas of Oman, which extend from Muscat northwards along the Batinah coast. 

Journey times from the UAE and major cities such as Dubai will also be reduced significantly. 

The new road will follow a shallower gradient and will be able to be used by two-wheel-drive cars. The existing road from the south is so steep that only four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed to use it. 

To increase the accessibility of the resort even further, the masterplan for the OMD development also includes a cable car that will take visitors to the top of the mountain. 

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Colin Foreman
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