Saturday, 30 June 2012

Is golf sustainable in Oman?

There are quite a few people, especially in countries where golf has not been traditionally part of life, who see golf as a rather posh activity, the delight of the rich and famous.
If you live in GCC you might be one of them.  This however goes completely against the essence of the game as still to be found in the homeland of golf: UK and more particular Scotland.  Clubhouses there are not 40,000 square feet hospitality monuments, with luxury restaurants and massive pro shop outlets featuring the latest, most expensive gear which, contrary to a consumerist impulse, it will not make your game any better.  Courses are mainly walked, and there are no GPS screens that slow your cart down when on a slope, or giving hints on how to score a birdie.  The number of staff on such courses is typically less than the number of holes, which are designed to seamlessly integrate into their environment.

This is not to say that the new golf courses being built in the country are not good initiatives. So are OGC’s efforts to promote the game among locals, especially youth.

There is one fundamental issue that will make or break the long term sustainability of golf in these countries particularly Oman: is creating the critical mass of local players.  And this goes back to the affordability of the game.
Championship courses built from exorbitant budgets will not be able to charge green fees affordable for a wide range of locals (currently they range from RO30 to 55).  Easy courses, enjoyable for beginners, featuring affordable academy programs, perhaps even integrated in schooling curricula are key in achieving a wide reach.  Countries like Sweden and Finland have achieved remarkable results growing their golfing population by promoting the game through several 9-hole municipal courses, a sort of golf playgrounds.

On the other hand, it is well known that a destination can only claim appeal for golf tourist if it has at least 4-5 outstanding golf course in close proximity, within 30-40 minutes driving distance. Dubai ticks the box for for a long time now and results are obvious. It claims a major chunk of European golf travelers.  Morocco would be another example perhaps more comparable to Oman. Muscat is making good progress as well with two 18-hole green course open (Almouj at The Wave and Muscat Hills) and the third one opening soon (Ghala Valley 9-hole existing with another 9 under construction).

I am afraid we can hardly sit on both saddles at the same time. Focusing on establishing Muscat as a golfing destination and creating state of the art golf facilities will not be a guarantee for promoting the game of golf among locals and building a critical mass of Omani golf enthusiasts.  While having more affordable 9-hole “municipally supported” courses and driving ranges with 3-4 practice holes will achieve this result but will not mark Muscat on golfing map of GCC.  Rightly or wrongly, it seems priorities are set for the first now; hope it will yield the desired results.

Golf courses in Muscat:
Muscat Hills – 18 holes + driving range and academy. Currently temporary club house to be completed by 2015 together with a new Intercontinental Hotel on site
Almouj (The Wave) – 18 holes PGA championship course + 9 hole par 3 course to be opened in a couple of month.  Extensive driving range and state of the art academy.
Ghala Valley – 9-hole green course with second 9 under construction
Ras Al Hamra Golf Club – (PDO's golf club) currently a brown course, with greens made of oil compacted sand, new course under construction to be opened in 2014.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

OFF as Omani Flavors Festival

As the old saying goes “You are what you eat”. Let’s twist it around a bit and claim that “You are liked as much as your food”. While the latter is less philosophical it certainly applies when it comes to gastro tourism i.e. the touristic appeal of the local food.
Let’s just start from the basics and assume that the Arab world and in particular Oman does not lack genuine recipes and interesting traditions of cooking and nutrition. What might lack though is focus on showcasing all of this [link to previous post].  While the number of restaurants and food places have grown over the last years, there are still very few that provide a truly Omani experience. Nor are enough places and events that have as main goal to promote the local cuisine (as diverse as it may be) bringing the indigenous flavors back in people’s mouth.

But this has changed now. We have recently attended the well-planned and nicely organized Omani Flavors Festival!  And I mean a standalone festival, not a food court for another event diluted to range of take away food stalls.  A whole master planned space structured around the ritual of eating. It has an “Appeteaser” area with a selection of mandazi (triangle shaped bread), bajeeya (fried bean balls), and mishkaak (meat skewers on a stick) prepared on the spot, engaging the visitors right from the entrance. Then we moved on to the Khubz Village where women were baking the different type of Arabic flat breads (rikhal, muhala) in a traditional way.  Our kids could not help engaging for a baking workshop in the Kiddie Kitchen, which kept them entertained and busy for quite some time.  We also bumped into the HealtyChoice area where all recipes were focused on your health without compromising (too much) on your joy.  Some choices were even better tasting than the originals.  After some hours of intense palate work we stopped for a wind down in the Majlis Al Khawa – focused on the great Omani coffee and a tea selection.  Tasting the still hot halwa in the Dessert District got us as close as possible to a fulfilling experience.
A cozy food and spice souk --leading you out to the parking area-- was offering all-you-can-imagine spices, ingredients and even traditional kitchen wear. We could also get vouchers for restaurants that offer genuine local recipes.
There were also a range of unique events and happenings that spiced up the dish.  Recipe competitions – open for all gourmand enthusiast, Chefs’ parades – engaging the heavy guns of the local restaurateur community.  We heard that a Shuwa day took place on the first and the last day of the festival showing the skills and technic of this great lamb cooking method.
So, all in all, it was an event worth driving for even a few hours.  The only problem was that it all happened in my dream, but I guess that could change, could in not?

Buy the way, there are a whole range of similar events around the world that we can learn from [link to external site].  And if you got a bit hungry than help your choice reading some good reviews here [link to another blog].

Pictures are from

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

"Laser" Chance for Oman

Probably there is no media consumer in Oman who has not heard of Oman Sail before.  And if there is any left, than beware as Oman Sail will be organizing the Laser World Championships between November 2013 and January 2014. For those not into boats, the Laser is a very popular small sailing boat (dinghy) usually sailed by one or rarely by two.

As mentioned earlier, sport events are probably most practical means for promoting a country like Oman, that lends itself to so many outdoor sport activities. Besides the benefit of promotion, the other great ripple effect is making sports popular among Omanis, a job where Oman Sail most likely has done quite well since inception.
Is not an easy call though, as organizing such events is always costly and poses several challenges to host organizations, authorities and local creative minds alike.  The great thing about this event is that is a relatively long one, so it creates several opportunities for promotion and incorporating local events between races. Here are few ideas on how to improve the impact of the event domestically and internationally:
  • Fun for kids:  kids are the main draw card for many families. Since sailing is not always the most action packed sports from a spectator on the shore, killing the time with interesting, sailing related attractions will attracts more spectators (small sailing pond, sailing themed playground etc. etc.)
  • Free sailing lessons for the period of the event: it is just much easier to relate and appreciate to sports if you ever tried it. At the end of the day making sailing popular is a large numbers game. The more have the chance to try, the more will fall in love with it
  • Get people closer to action: using CCTV with camera close to action and projectors on the shore, as well as perhaps floating stands using mid-size cruise ships, or cargo ships installed with small stands
  • Unique merchandising: good quality (!) clothing, toys, and sailing gear is essential to create a lasting image
  • Synergistic events: include sailing boat exhibition or similar to enhance attraction for the same period
  • Attempt for a world record: (most sails on water sailing together per sqm km, or Laser with most people on board etc.)
  • Get international celebrities on board: the effort of tracking down a few big names who are into sailing,  and convincing them to be there might pay off if smartly planned
  • Not just Laser: a concept that does not only focuses on Laser, but it comes across as an international fiesta of sailing sports attracting sailing enthusiasts from the region
…and many more… 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

We can dance...

Would you dance? The staff of the Grosvenor House in Dubai certainly would!
A great viral video was shot recently capturing the hotel staff engaging in a so called flash mob. A cool and entertaining one. Watch the surprised faces of the most guests, while some others seemed hard-to-surprise, perhaps trained flash mob attendants.

Viral videos are a great way to market, attract attention, create buzz especially on social media and its target segments, regular facebook, tweeter, youtube users.

Obviously on this genre originality is key, so repeating this would not have the desired impact...but variation could do. Perhaps it can also take regional proportions and staff of different hotels will start competing with each other bringing on more and more interesting productions.

In fact it could also give ideas to hotels in Oman calling for a most original flash mobs. There would be multiple benefits, as besides a great marketing tool, it is also a great way to motivate and keep a team spirit among your staff!  What would be your flash mob idea?

If you need ideas on how to do a flash mob (it's not that easy as it seems) check this out.
Or see how it was done by others elsewhere.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

In search of the new Habsi...

Have you heard of Puskas, Beckenbauer or Johan Cruijff ?  If not than probably football is not your thing.  If  your did, do you know their nationalities? (ɥɔʇnp 'uɐɯɹǝƃ 'uɐıɹɐƃunɥ)
Long after they have retired (Puskas passed away in 2006), are still great ambassadors for their countries. There are probably few modern day marketing budgets that can repeat the performance of these legends in promoting their countries. The Hungarian inventiveness of Puskas, the German reliability of Beckenbauer and the Dutch completeness of Cruijff.

It is clear that successful teams and athletes are often priceless when it comes to country promotion. Although he is not (yet) a legend, Ali Al Habsi is playing a similar role. He is a great ambassador for Oman and its football and he has just been included in the top 500 most influential Arabs in the world list (by Arabian Business), where he is ranked #138, the first among Omanis. There is one and a bit of a problem with him: he is all alone and he is "only" a goalkeeper.

It is probably more difficult to stand out as a striker or a mid fielder and be b(r)ought in the Premier league or any other league for that matter, but Oman definitively needs another star, a striker! Ideally it would not only be the on-pitch skills making him a star, but a well balanced off-pitch personality as well, a true sportsman. (unlike Drogba who is a superstar, a cover page personality, but how much good does he actually do for Ivory Coast in terms of image?)

So who can match up Habsi in terms of personality and performance?  Perhaps the OFA, among many other challenges, has to focus on creating at least another outstanding personality.  (one way could be to support a few of the prospects to make the second division of large championships, then it's up to them to make the cut to the first stage and excel).  Amad Al-Hosni with his 76 matches in the squad could not really make it yet. So, who could be the next Habsi?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Are Omani tour guides exceptional?

Have you ever used a tour guide in Muscat, or seen few of them in action?  The last one I noted was local guide in the Grand  Mosque who was really outstanding: engaging, knowledgeable, passionate, modest and with a lot of humor at the same time. He was speaking about Islam and its cultural aspects. Truly outstanding experience. But I have a feeling that he was an exception, hopefully I am wrong.
This reminds me about how much more a destination can offer having a sound pool of outstanding local travel guides. Nonetheless it can also be a great business for the really good ones.
I am sure most of you experienced the travel guide who is great at giving a textbook monotone speech about the attraction and destination, (making it felt that it is the 50th time he/she is doing it..that week), before it rushes on to the next attraction with extended unopened umbrella (usually of a distinct disgusting color) over his/her head.
Well, the news is that the time of such guides is moving to a slow but sure end. There will always be the traveler who prefers this type of canned food experience, slowly moving into a retro feel, to be revived few decades later as a 'cool' or nostalgic thing to do...
Until then, the new trend is the personalized, original, genuine local experience, offered by amateur or pro guides who promise great fun, originality, a non-mainstream perspective. They deliver much more than visual impressions, they put you in action, situations, stir emotions, make you interact with the city/destination. They tell stories of their own offering you a local angle of the place through their lives, but seen from your perspective. A great example of this is A site where tested tourist guides offer unique travel experiences. Unfortunately there is no tour registered from Oman yet, but check out the "Paris by scooter" tour or the "San Francisco's premier food" tour or the "Old Rome walking" tour.  From 3-4 hours to full day experiences you can have most of what you look for.
Let's put aside for the moment the standard offering of most local agents, and guess if there would be demand for things like:
  • experiencing the souqs through the eyes of a local merchant's son,
  • fishing with locals from say Bandar Khairan village, then cooking the catch with local family,
  • tasting the oil exploration life style of the desert along with an interesting introduction into the world of the black gold at its source,
  • do a "Local portre's" or "Past and future architecture" photo shooting tour with a local photographer
  • morning horse ride or evening football on the beach with locals,
  • Spend the afternoon of a bullfight with one of the bull owners from Barka and go through the excitement of the preparations and the fight,
  • and so much more...
(royalty free picture from