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Times of Oman - 14.12.2014


I don't normally write articles related to matters other than Human Resources but feel driven to do so having seen the articles in Times of Oman regarding the move from Majlis Al Shura to ban alcohol.

I rarely drink alcohol so my views are not because of the affect a ban would have on me and Oman is obviously free to determine its own legislation — to be honest in terms of impact on my personal life, I don't mind if there is a ban, but I do care about Oman.  

I came to Oman in 2009 and fell in love with the kindness of the people, the beauty of the country and the tolerance shown to other religions and cultures under the visionary leadership of His Majesty. I am very fortunate to be able to call Oman my home.  

But my love for this country and its future, means that I am concerned about this current proposal.  
I completely accept that drinking and driving is totally unacceptable and that those that do so are putting their own and other's lives at risk.  

I completely accept that the fall-out from any accident, places a burden on the health care system but all that a ban will do is push alcohol underground with people making their own (for example, from rice and potatoes which can't be banned) and taking other substitutes. 

Look at the other GCC countries that are dry, they have serious issues with black market alcohol and the cost to the health service caused by drinking home-made brews would, I suspect, be far greater than currently experienced.  

Those determined to drink will continue to do so. With regards to the cause of accidents being alcohol, statistics show that this is the case in a small percentage of the accidents here.  

It is people that cause accidents.  If people have any alcohol at all, then they should not drive — it is that simple and it is a choice people make.  

If you know you are going out for a drink — leave the car at home and take a taxi, there are hundreds of them!  

It is not the alcohol at fault but the people who make the conscious decision to drink and drive.  

The very small number of accidents with alcohol being a contributory factor pale into insignificance (not for the people involved) against the other causes, poor driving instruction, speeding, use of mobile phones, children not in car seats, not using seat belts in the rear, for example.

I also look at other GCC countries that are dry and their tourism statistics (not visits for business or religious purposes but the holiday market) and their tourism is practically non-existent.   

Our neighbour is a clear example of this with some states being dry and others serving alcohol.  

Where do the tourists go?

Without a doubt, not serving alcohol in hotels will have a huge negative impact on tourism from the westernised countries and other countries too — although Oman is a beautiful country and well worth the visit, visitors don't know that until they get here.  

Given that increasing tourism is a primary focus of the government I believe this ban would have a detrimental effect and reduce visitors to this lovely country.  

As revenues fall in hotels from the alcohol ban, they will increase charges for other services (including the room rate) which will make Oman an even less attractive option for tourists.

The reduction in tourists will also have an impact on so many other business revenues, shops, restaurants, souks, national treasures (eg Nizwa Fort), dolphin trips, taxis, car rental, air travel and so much more. 

People in many walks of life will lose their jobs adding an additional burden to the government in benefit.  

What about the tax revenue from the import of alcohol, what about the tax revenue on sales – the financial losses from these are far higher than the cost on the health services.

Oman is already becoming a less attractive option for expats due to the recent labour clearance legislation, add a drink ban to that and it will mean Oman would not be considered as an option for many.  Salaries will have to increase to attract the international experience required. 

Nationalisation is important, but without expats the country would not function and grow in accordance with government growth plans.

There are so many measures that can be put in place without having a total ban.  Perhaps close the alcohol outlets and only allow alcohol to be served in hotels and restaurants — ask their staff to limit the alcohol served (like they do in many places in the US). 

I know this isn't fool proof as someone else can always go to the bar to buy the drinks, but it would be a positive step. Perhaps only allowing alcohol to be served with a meal may be another consideration. 

Don't serve anyone in national dress. Perhaps the ROP could be visible outside licensed hotels and restaurants watching for, and stopping, people leaving who may have been drinking.  

I think it is really important that the actual problems are dealt with at the root and taking actions without considering the whole picture will be detrimental to the economy going forward.  

Educate youngsters about the effects of alcohol and how to drink safely (if this is not against your religious view) — look at Italy, they have low rates of alcoholism as children are introduced to it in a safe way and studies show that — and I quote from the latest study "Italian youths whose parents allowed them to have alcohol with meals while they were growing up are less likely to develop harmful drinking patterns in the future".   

This obviously is not an option for everyone given the religion but there is a large expat community here and it is not just the nationals that are drinking alcohol and causing these accidents.

Further introduce more stringent penalties for those caught drink driving, encourage reporting of people who  have been drinking alcohol and leave the 'alcohol' venue and get in a car to drive - perhaps by introducing a special hotline number.  

Oman needs to keep moving forward and to develop tourism — please don't ban alcohol totally and continue efforts to improve driving safety and hopefully people will come and see what an amazingly beautiful and friendly place it is — I for one will continue to encourage people to do so but know that with no alcohol being available many will not consider Oman as an option at all.  

I started by saying this is not an HR related topic – but I find after all that it actually is – so many will lose their jobs and the resultant impact on family life will be huge.
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