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Luxury hotels pry open Oman's Green Mountain oasis

From Leone Lakhani, CNN
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1716 GMT (0116 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oman is looking to open up its interior to tourists
  • A number of luxury resorts have been opened or are in the works near Jabal Akhdar
  • Western resort brands are among those interested in investing

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Jabal Akhdar, Oman (CNN) -- For centuries, European travelers would tell tales of Oman's Jabal Akhdar mountain -- of its lush gardens filled with grapes and pomegranate surrounded by otherwise parched desert terrain.

Alas, access to the site was shut off in the 1950s amidst internal strife and tribal rebellion. The area remained a tightly controlled military zone for decades after the conflict ended.

Recently, however, all that has started to change.

The Omani government is hoping to make Jabal Akhdar (Arabic for Green Mountain) a focal point for showcasing tourism in the interior of the country. A number of resort brands are already building on this opportunity.

The 86-room Alila Jabal Akhdar luxury hotel -- part of the wider Alila Group which operates throughout India and the Asia-Pacific region -- is one such company. Opened in May 2014, the project is striving to meet the government's vision of preserving the heritage of the region.

"The design and the architecture of this particular property was very much to make a very traditional Omani house concept using local materials," says Jork Bosselaar, general manager of the Alila Jabal Akhdar.

"Elements of traditional welcomes will stay. We are collaborating with the local farmers to procure the produce and we are getting them involved in the economy. The heart and the soul and the character of the hotel are local people from the mountain who guide the guests into their communities, introducing them to the local customs," Bosselaar adds.

Tour guide Ali Al Abri is one of the natives keen to do just that.

He says part of the appeal of Jabal Akhdar is the cooler climate it offers visitors compared to other parts of Oman.

"While we have high temperatures in cities around the country, we have really moderate temperature here," Al Abri says. "So the closest place in the region here to escape in 1 or 2 days would be the mountain."

The tourism ministry of Oman says that the number of tourists to the region has grown by 12% in the past year alone. A similar rise is expected next year.

And with a burgeoning new industry comes greater opportunity for the 10,000 people who call Jabal Akhdar home.

Nasser Al Fahdi works at the front desk of The Sahab, the only other established hotel on the mountain right now.

"It is very important for me because if tourism opens for this mountain, it means more jobs will come for the people here."

Since the hotel opened in 2011, Al Fahdi says room occupancy has risen by as much as 20%.

Next to The Sahab, construction work is underway for two more hotels, including one mammoth project that comes with a $50 million price tag.

Such impressive developments are a far cry from the turmoil of yesteryear.

But a priority for the future of this fertile desert oasis.

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