MUSCAT: Considering the great potential of cruise tourism in the country, Ministry of Tourism (MoT) has formed a special committee to steer the sector towards better growth and development.

The first meeting of the committee was held last month at the MoT office under the patronage of H E Maitha bint Saif al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary in the ministry.

The committee comprising specialists from the ministry and other stakeholders aims to supervise the annual cruise tourism season in the sultanate, which normally runs from the beginning of October until the end of April.

In addition, the team will also facilitate procedures and matters relating to reception of cruise ships, organising excursions and other related matters.

“The team will also undertake formation of plans and programmes that will contribute to the development of this sector, taking advantage of the continued annual growth witnessed over the past many years. It is expected that growth will continue through this year as well,” a ministry statement said.

According to the ministry, 256,721 cruise passengers visited Oman in 2012, up from just 3,500 in 2003, and reached the 300,000 mark by 2014.

According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), the number of cruise tourists till May 2015 reached 97,000, of which Europeans constituted the majority at 67 per cent. With Port Sultan Qaboos being developed into a cruise- specific port and developments taking place at Khasab and Salalah ports, the cruise sector is set for major growth.

“The ports have contributed to Oman’s tourism growth as nearly 300,000 cruise passengers passed through the ports of Sultan Qaboos, Khasab and Salalah in 2014,” said the ministry.