Thursday, December 11, 2014

Well, well, well.

The debate rages on about whether Oman should ban the bottle or not. It takes my breath away at how staggeringly small minded some of the comments that I've read both as quotes in news articles from Majlis a Shura members, and from the general public. It seems that some people have convinced themselves that Oman's tourism industry is better off without alcohol.

Because I like numbers, here's some facts:

There are, on average, approximately 160 shipping containers brought into the Sultanate each month with alcohol in them. Rough estimates of these 160 containers are that half are beer and half are spirits or wine. The approximate tax revenues on these containers are about RO 6,000 per container of beer and RO 3,000 per container of spirits or wine. This comes up to RO 720,000 per month in direct alcohol import taxes, or RO 7,920,000 per year (assuming 11 months). Thats before corporate taxes paid by hotels for profits made on alcohol related sales or revenue generated by tourists opting to visit Oman for a holiday. Or state dole payments for Omani's not out of work because of a tourism based job.

The single largest purchaser of alcohol in Oman is the 4 and 5 star hotel segment. How someone can say that tourism would not be impacted if alcohol were to be banned I honestly have no idea. If alcohol wasn't so popular with tourists, why are the hotels buying the most booze?

Like any business, hotel's have budgets and business plans. All of them would factor in food and beverage sales into their business plan, and with the removal of alcohol, you'd probably see a direct impact on the room rates here in Oman as hotels try to generate revenue to bridge it's losses in F&B.

This would mean that room rates could increase even further here in Oman, which has one of the highest room rates in the world as it is, and would make it even harder for Oman's tourism industry to compete on the world stage.

The Times of Oman quoted a number of people in an article it published earlier, but this one takes the cake:

"It would actually enhance our tourism, if you come to think of it. Tourists who drink alcohol would love to visit a country that is free of it in order to have a 'break' and truly enjoy their time here.  I am sure there aren't many countries that offer this. I think the advantages of this ban outweigh the disadvantages".

You what? You think someone who is having a holiday away from their daily grind where they might  normally have a drink actually wants to not drink?! Tourism in Brunei, Kuwait, Saudi and Iran is booming!! Not..... And the black market for booze in Saudi and Kuwait is significant, so banning it won't have the effect desired by the Majlis a Shura anyway.

But could Oman ban alcohol? Of course it could. Oman would survive, but life as it is here would be significantly different for a lot of us immediately, and all of us eventually. Just like Saudi and Kuwait, Oman would probably become a hardship posting location once more, and this would drive up labour costs, and scare off a lot of current expats working here. It's not that people need alcohol, it's that people like it, and it's peoples free choice to consume it or not. I suspect foreign investment would reduce, and certainly I'd be interested in what the existing hotel operators would do, and those who are currently preparing to open hotels in the Sultanate would do. If there's no profit to be made, why would the business continue?

Like it or not, jobs would be lost as a result of drying out Oman, foreign investment may indeed decline and then we'd see an awful lot more unemployment here than what's already being seen. I wonder what the property values at ITD's like Muscat Hills and The Wave would do? As the economy slows down, the number of expatriates living here will reduce, and all of the little businesses in town will feel the pinch too - because there will be less people buying food, less people renting accommodation, less people dining out at restaurants, less people going to the barbers. And so on.

Humaid Al Nasri, the Majlis al Shura member who launched the proposal to ban alcohol consumption in all forms in Oman stated this, "The ban aims to reduce traffic accidents, divorce, murder and adultery, and reduce avenues leading to drug abuse,". ROP stats suggest that 167 accidents (with 15 dead) are due to alcohol (source) so far this year. To put that into perspective, in 2013 there were 7,829 accidents leaving 913 people dead (source). 

Rightyho then. So the terrible state of affairs that is driving on Oman's roads' primary problem is booze, except, its not. The biggest problem is poor drivers education, WhatsApp, speeding, and quite frankly, Lexus drivers. But lets go after the booze anyway!

Good governance comes from logical thought, emotions should not come into it. Yet what we have here is an emotional reaction with nearly no solid research into what would happen to the countries economy and future diversification plans. To the 16% of Majlis a Shura members that did not vote in favour of this ban, at least they've got the eyes on the future, and the knowledge that Oman can't carry on with it's hydrocarbon-based expenditures much longer.

Farewell little blue book?

I wonder if we'll see booze in the hotels stay, refusal to serve those in national dress, and perhaps the end to the bottle shops for us expats living here? I really can't see any logic to banning alcohol outright here, it'd hurt Oman so much more than it'd help it. And banning alcohol won't get rid of it, it'll just fuel the black market and Oman will still have it's medical bill, but no sin-taxes to offset some of it against, and reduced tourists receipts to boot.

I'm not sure how a ban would be levied against Muslims, but if anything, that's something that might be followed up on and ultimately considered to be passed into law.

Anyway, it's a nice distracton from the fact our electricity and water bills are about to go up....

le fin.


Anonymous said...

These idiots sit round a table and see what new laws they can bring in. This is just as good as only being allowed to walk your pet between 11-3 during the day. Sure keeps animal numbers down as most would die being walked in summer between 11-3

Guess all the Maroccan hookers the big families fly in will suffer as well if those boys are off the booze?

Too funny!!!

Anonymous said...

That's the problem with the internet, everyone has a place to vent their opinion, no matter how un- /misinformed or unrealistic it is.

As for the booze, they'll never ban it.

BTW: Are you sure that the hotels make up the biggest chunk of the booze import? pretty sure the army and ROP drink like the Irish.

Anonymous said...

A very well written article Mr Sythe. I think they should also ban cigarettes, fast food, chocolate and .... ALL Expats.

Anonymous said...

Any idea when the council is said to take a vote? I know a lot of people are very curious about the outcome. It will affect, even more than recreational entertainment, but actual livelihood of a lot of people in the country. I love Oman like a first home even, but this decision is going to genuinely hinder tourism and economic growth. I honestly feel people choose to live here because of freedom of choice. If that is taken away, whats left?

Anonymous said...

*knock knock*
"Who's there?"
"Intolerance, with my friends short sighted and moral absolutism."
"Er, okay. What do you want?"
"Your personal freedom and ability to make informed choices as an adult."

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

The problem is, the majority of Omanis (and Muslims) would actually rather not have the tax money from the hotels or alcohol sales be fed into the economy. Better to keep that foreign or non-Muslim (islam forbids the sale of alcohol by Muslims and any profit derived by it ect). If the hotels wanted it, let them hire more Omanis instead, and keep their revenue to non-Muslim tourists and residents.

A Muslim-ban would be easy if
a. the resident card system included a spot to write that for everyone and this card had to be shown to purchase alcohol---and visas include this question upon coming into the country as tourists or visitors. Make GCC folks do the same.

Free to choose your religion. Free to drink if one wishes. Free not to if Muslim.

It would solve the real issues for Muslim Omanis with brains;) and wouldn't frighten away others from learning about Oman, its culture, and hey, even its religion.

I agree with the other commentators. Choice is the reason tourists and expats like it here. Choice is also a reason many educated Omanis stay here rather than being poached to other countries, like France, Saudi, Iran, ect... where dress, and religion (are not a freedom of choice).

Anonymous said...

Extremely well put Sythe. Thank you for putting everything in a nut shell, I couldn't agree more. Speaking as a European expat that's been working here for the last 2 years, I love this country, I love it like a first home. I am just so perplexed at the 84% decision in favour of the total ban. As a European working here, I work here through choice. Part of the choosing process to come here rather than Kuwait, Dubai (where I have worked before) and Saudi is the fact that the Omani culture has always embraced the expat and their beliefs as long as we respect the home country beliefs before our own. Its been a model for the rest of the ME to envy. I love the fact I can go to a beautiful beach and have a glass of wine or two or a few beers or just relax in a restaurant with a nice meal doing the same. I get the freedom to unwind, having a drink after a 60 to 70 hour hard working week, its my culture to do so and has profound affect on my social and cultural life, its how we in the western world often relax and interact. I get the added bonus of not having to put up with the hussle and bussle of Dubai with its fast paced life of glitz and glamour. Give me a chilled out evening sitting in the beautiful winter sun enjoying a cold one. Its the stuff of dreams for a westerner. Yes it came at a cost also!!! I was prepared to take a drop in salary to come here and im glad I did....... well up until all this came about. I seriously do believe the economy will be affected in so many ways. I have discussed this with my colleagues, if the ban is enforced we will probably all move back and look for jobs in Dubai. We wont go out at all, meaning we wont spend 25 Rials each on food on a night out, we wont need to put fuel in a vehicle or hire taxi cabs for a night out, we wont purchase nice expensive clothes here as theres no need to as we wont be going out. We will, in essence become hermits, we personally see no reason to go out when we can do exactly the same thing by inviting eachother to eachothers apartments. SO ! there you go, if every expat thinks the same as us then a) there will definitely be less Omani earned salary spent in Oman and b) Oman will need to entice professionals here from Dubai with higher salaries which, at the moment is the opposite way around, well it is for the expats I know. Imagine me telling my friends back home...... "hey go to Oman, no drink, no live music but its a beautiful country" I know exactly what they would say "why go there, you may aswell go to Saudi" Sorry its a very short sighted opinion. I think before people cite RTA death and injury through alcohol, maybe a simpler way to cut death and injury is using rear seat belts and stop letting your kids sleep on parcel shelves in the car, stand in the front foot well, sit on dads knee while he steers the car, hang out of the window or sunroof, which we all see every day.......... but that's another conversation!

Anonymous said...

Whatever way you look at it, it looks like Omani's don't want us expats here anymore. All of the recent developments in law point towards this - and I will not outstay my welcome.

As soon as my contract is over next year, I'm on the first plane out of here. This horrible blend intolerance and arrogance effused with hypocrisy is really starting to ware thin...

We all built this country together. We couldn't have done it without you and you definitely couldn't have done it without us. Pretend all you like, but the progress here over the last few decades has been a collaborative effort. This county is has many parts, and they most certainly not exclusively made in Oman.

I have a lot of wonderful memories from my life here and have made some great friends, Omani and expat- but I really can't stand this anymore.

Oman, good luck - I hope that you don't ruin all of the amazing progress that WE have made over the last few decades.

Anonymous said...

Ban should be a restricted ban. It should allow people who have got their liquor permit and hotels to enjoy the drink. the dance bars serving liquor and other illicit liquor vendors should be banned. Due to such uncontrolled liquor sales the blue collared expats and local taxi drivers spend a major amount of their earnings into liquor. This should be banned.

Muscateeress said...

My favourite quote is the one carried by the ToO stating
'Furthermore, Al Nasri said, this is also being done to cut the expenses on treating addicts for alcohol-related diseases, for which the country annually spends an average of OMR45 million.'
Since the majority of expatriates do NOT receive government funded medical care, then that figure must be for the Omani Muslim population, not the expatriates. As a previous poster suggested, have an ID card specifying either Muslim or not, that way, they will solve their alcohol problem and keep their tourism!! Everybody happy......apart from the alcohol drinking taxi drivers!!

Another great post Mr. Sythe!

Judy said...

Times of the past has changed and a higher consciousness has arrived.

Realize that soon as there is still time ahead.

All the best to everyone :)

Anonymous said...

After Reading the Article, I feel like, the Whole World is revolving around Alcohol and it is the Only worlds largest power which is running all countries on earth. I am surprised why this article did not mention that Vehicles are also running on Alcohol and they will Stop.

I agree hotel industry will be effected but that is not the only industry we have in Oman. Also Increasing room rate is not the only strategy. they can reduce it also to encourage more customers. I know one hotel here, who stopped selling Alcohol and they are still in profits by cutting their room rates and attracting more customers.

Tell me if there were no Alcohol in Greenland and people wants to see Aurora, will they not go their only because Alcohol is not there.

Well I guess you needs to take this out of your mind that ALcohol is not the only controlling power on earth.

I do agree, people who wants to drink and addicted will suffer. There can be a system to provide Alcohol to them only.

Anonymous said...

Mmh, I like to smoke weed. And since weed is a softdrug that's not causing huge amounts of traffic accidents, fights, domestic violence etc (unlike world's #1 hard-drug alcohol...), I think Oman should legalize weed instead. Can you imagine how much revenues they could make!! All the tourists that will come here to smoke weed....

Your sounding a bit desperate in your arguments. Have you ever considered hotel prices are high because they pay huge amounts of money for their booze license?? Seems to me restaurants without a license are doing just fine.

Anyway, I really don't care what they do but just respect the culture and whatever choice they make. I love my beer but am ultimately here to make triple the money that I would make back home and booze or no booze is not going to make a difference. Other options are ebola infested countries or paying 40% income tax...... Go do the math...

Anonymous said...

The bigger picture to me is not just the alcohol ban. It's the restriction of work movement for Expats (stay in same company or leave for 2 years and take all that experience with you, never to return). It's the banning of visas for Expat women (is anyone getting them through?). And now this. Where does it end?

Anonymous said...

I drink. I am not evil and so far have not been involved in, nor caused any accidents to anyone else because of it.
There seems to be a mindset on forums like these that the merest sniff of alcohol and you are totally unable to stand and are heading for a certain slow and painful death.
Most, though sadly not all, drink in moderation. About 90% of Omanis have never come across alcohol in any shape or form whatsoever. Is Oman really going to throw away so much tax revenue and ruin a whole sector of the economy and lose so many jobs over an issue that realistically effects so few people.
If alcohol goes, fickle tourists will go elsewhere. Oman brace yourself! There are OTHER beautiful countries. Alcohol goes tourists will go, expats will leave. Two years later when nothing works they will be enticed back with triple salaries and the price of everything will rise. The Council of Ministers see this logic, the Shura does not. I am fairly certain the alcohol ban will be rejected.

Kali said...

Serious decisions will be coming up in the coming years that every person is going to make on their own. My advise, choose wisely.

Anonymous said...

A good indicator of how an alcohol ban may affect tourism and local business can be found in what's happening at the Capital Area Yacht Club near Sidab. Their alcohol license was yanked by the Ministry of Tourism and the place went from booming to desolate on weekdays and less than half the crowd as previously on weekends.

The restaurant which used to be open seven days a week is now shut down except at the weekends and during holidays. The nice beach setting, dive shop and 'boat rides' don't seem to be enough to bring the same numbers.

If this is any example of what would happen if a full 'ban' came into force, it appears the ban would have a drastic effect. However, if the majority of people value a 'dry' society highly it is their right.

Anonymous said...

The answer to the problem lies not in the banning of alcohol but in education of its overuse and also in the introduction of proper policing.
Not once in my entire twelve years in Muscat have I seen anyone on the side of the road being breathalyzer.
Random checks. Stick a permanent patrol at the end of the Crowne Plaza roundabout and one at the bottom of the hill at Shangri-la. That one in particular would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Oh the shame! My family! It was the shaytan did it and not me!
No balls! An ROP seemingly powerless to deal with the wasta merchants and their kids.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy a drink, but It's their country, it's their choice.
Kuwait used to have (legal) alcohol, and there are just as many expats now as before the ban.
How many Omanis work in hotels with alcohol licences? A tiny percent of the work force, so even if the entire "western" tourist industry disapears, it won't make much difference to overall unemployment rates.
There are far, far bigger issues that Oman needs to address, but if the Shura wants to make some sort of statement, then good for them.

Anonymous said...

384 people being treated for alcohol dependence in Oman in 2007: How many were Omani’s and how many were expats?
45 million rials, the amount the government spends on average each year to treat alcohol related diseases: In which hospitals and other institutions? Seeing as the majority of the expats have private medical care treatment facilities, it would be interesting to see the breakdown of the numbers of who is being treated under this statement? How many locals vs how many expats?
13,000 patients with alcohol problems registered at hospitals: What is the ratio of locals to expats, and what are the ‘alcohol related problems’? How many instances are the so called ‘alcohol related problems’ mis-diagnosed and could be related to something that has nothing to do with alcohol?
424 cases of alcohol abuse officially registered by Ministry of Health from 2006-2011: How many locals vs how many expats.

It is all very well saying there should be a blanket ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in Oman, but if you look at the alternative, it presents a whole raft of situations that could be counter-productive to what the Omani Government is trying to achieve:

No alcohol: What are they going to drink now? Locally brewed hooch with the excessive amounts of wood alcohol amongst other impurities, which in itself is a killer, and how would the health authorities explain the amount of money being used for alcohol related disease prevention and cure, if alcohol is banned in this country? How would the ROP explain the number of Drinking and Driving accidents statistics?

No alcohol: Drugs are a real problem in the Sultanate and should the ban on alcohol be implemented, I wonder how many people will resort to an alternative method to get their ‘high’. Snorting the drugs up your nose, or even worse, injecting it, brings a whole new set of problems, which will increase the amount of money the government is spending on drug rehabilitation without the adequate facilities to treat these ‘addicts’

No alcohol: With a coast line of over 1000 km’s, smuggling alcohol is going to be a very profitable business, and the Omani government just doesn’t have the manpower and equipment to monitor the whole coastline and interior borders all the time

No alcohol: No problem, we will go to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or somewhere else across the border and have our drinks there. The amount of money Omani’s and expat from Oman spend in the Emirates each year is mind boggling, and with no alcohol here in Oman, the outflow of money from Oman into the pockets of the Emirati business will increase dramatically.

A quick look around the hotel bars and ‘taxi bars’ will give anyone a good indication of who are the predominant patrons of these establishments, so introduce a ID card that will ban the Omani’s from entering these establishments, and monitor the consumption of the other individuals who frequent these bars.

I agree there is no quick fix to this problem, but a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction is not the way to go, but by the same token, tarring everyone with the same brush is short-sighted, and just plain stupid!

Anonymous said...

"It's not that people need alcohol, it's that people like it, and it's peoples free choice to consume it or not."..hit right on the spot...No more clarity required.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"It's not that people need alcohol, it's that people like it, and it's peoples free choice to consume it or not."..hit right on the spot...No more clarity required.

Actually even though I like a drink I don't believe there is always a free choice. The Omanis have the right to pass whatever laws they deem fit and the ex-pats, myself included, have the right to leave and work elsewhere. Similarly tourists have the right to go elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

No one's saying Omanis can't pass whatever laws they want. They can pass a law requiring all men to grow mustaches or everyone has to walk backwards on Mondays. People just want them to think about the laws and possible consequences. Omanis want's to diversify their economy in part by increasing tourism. Banning alcohol might decrease tourism and make Oman a hardship posting. Kuwait and Qatar have more oil and smaller population so there's less pressure for them to diversify economy and they can afford to pay people more.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I see the State Council looked at the remittance tax genius proposal from the Shura and said in effect "don't be silly" so at least some part of the state does actually think. So I think an absolute ban is extraordinarily unlikely (as it would need to go right through Government and up to HM. However, the national sport here is not thinking things through so I would not be at all surprised if some muppet decided to tighten up on alcohol by making things harder via administrative actions (like not relicencing booze shops or making it harder to get a liquor permit) - foot, aim, shoot!

Anonymous said...

Here's what HM thinks:
Revealing much about his own views on religion, the
Sultan observed that religion combines many features:
fundamental pillars of belief, rules of interpersonal
behavior, and a kind of social contract, among others.
Islam, he said, strictly proscribes only a very narrow band
of activities, such as drinking blood and eating pork;
everything else is simply cultural interpretation. He finds
it ridiculous that some people claim women must wear a hijab
as an article of faith, whereas the Quran makes no such
requirement. Murdering people in the name of the faith is
likewise an abomination. Noting how effective Christian
missionaries were in presenting a positive image of their
religion by coming to places like Oman as doctors and
teachers, he questioned what image of Islam is presented by
suicide bombers. Illustrating the impossibility of imposing
faith, the Sultan recounted how his parents would force him
to pray at the appointed morning and evening prayer times.
Having every intention to pray at the time of his choosing,
Qaboos resented being told exactly when to do so. So he
would go through the motions when forced, but did not
actually pray. It is human nature, he noted, to rebel
against tight authority.

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