Wednesday, 26 September 2012

New trends in tourism?

Soul searching
It is kind of a known way of travelling, typically associated to backpacker travelling in South East Asia.  I have an increasing number of friends who are trying to escape from their everyday life (typically in tough periods) for 3 to 6 months or more, just to have some time away with themselves and figure out what is really important for them in life.  Bali, India, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam are typical preferred by these travelers, who’s age range from 25 to 60.  There is a good chance that such lads are coming back home with a fisherman look (suntanned &  bearded) practicing yoga and being vegetarians. Well at least that’s the modal character of a soul searcher trying to adapt back to big city life or just kissing good bye to it forever.

Travel to a new skill
Have you heard of the muay thai boot camps in Thailand, where they make you suffer few hours a day for 2-3 month with the reward of coming back to your real life ripped like a kung fu warrior and never being scared again by the big guy in the pub? Well that’s just one of the options you have if you want to spend few months of your life away from home, returning with a totally new skill.  Visiting certain monasteries for an intense language course is another such formula. I am sure traveler creativity has all figured it out already and one can become a sushi chef, coastal lifeguard, or sailing instructor in few weeks or month of intensive training in exotic locations.

Movie locations catcher
Probably Paris did not need the DaVinci Code to promote itself, unwillingly however several locations within the French capital that featured in the movie (like the Saint-Sulpice chapel) became known and visited  by hundreds of thousands of DaVinci Code enthusiast. Same goes for the clay houses where a few shots of the Star Wars were taken back in the 80's in Tunis (today The Sidi Driss Hotel, in Matmata), the locations of the Jaws in Massachusetts or even the Nothing Hill in London.
This is still a very niche kind of segment but I recon it is growing in volume and importance as the Asian travel market is becoming increasingly significant. Somewhat similar is the sport fan travel. Football games or even stadiums within the English Premier League and the Serie A of Italy are becoming pilgrimage sites for thousands of traveling fans annually.

Time travel
Let’s be honest, probably you thought about how’d be like to live a few centuries back for some days? Waking up as a knight in the age of Arthur the Lion Heart, or as Robin Hood? Eventually Maryann or another princess in the royal court? Well if not than you must have had a very different childhood than most of the people I know. Or, the only thing you thought about is how’d be like to live 50 or 100 years from now in the future. Well, not too bad either.  I am actually not aware of places who offer the full experience of living like centuries ago or decades ahead, but I bet there would be a demand for it.  Obviously the future one would rely on the known master pieces of sci-fi literature and the creativity of attraction designers.  So I expect that not too long from now there will be castles and the villages that specialize in taking you back or forward in time not only for the hour (as museums do) but for a few days with no cheating.

Eco neutral travel
Have you ever wondered how much environmental damage you do when climbing your SUV on top of a mountain or taking your family to ski? Probably not and that’s almost all right.  But think for a second what it would take to go for a weekend holiday and plan everything such as your ecological footprint would be neutral. I.e. the net environmentally impact of your visit is nil. Think about what you do during a trip and you’ll see that it pretty much take a Homo Sapiens to stay almost neutral.  Probably there would be very few travelers interested for such type of recreation, but anyways, it was worth the thought.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Strongest Omani brand abroad...

Following up on my earlier thinking on the brand promise of Oman, I was trying to figure out which Omani brand is possibly the strongest abroad. When I mean the strongest I refer to the most known, and when I mean brand I not only refer to a product, but rather a name that one can associate with.   Most probably the best know Omani name internationally is the one of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said  for all the right reasons.  My thinking here though is related more to commercial names and brands, their current awareness and future potential.

One of the most obvious calls would be Oman Tourism (i.e. Sultanate of Oman), especially considering the recent efforts put into the promotion of Oman as a tourism destination. Another possible candidate could be Amouage with a bespoke strategy of becoming a major player on the international luxury fragrances market.  Perhaps Oman Air with a best in class business class seat award, a growing fleet and regional presence?  I was also thinking of Oman Sail given the recent successes and huge exposure on the sports channels around the world. Let's face it, the brands that have a strong local call like Bank Muscat, Omantel, Nawras, The Royal Opera House Muscat  etc...have little to no traction to an international audience yet.

So let's have a closer look to the ones before:

  • Oman Tourism - strong presence at international tourism fairs, adverts on international media, a strong  offering for active and spa tourism, a smart complementary choice to a Dubai mainstream experience (@OmanTourism)
  • Amouage - strong story, good product,  potential for a strong frankincense association, exotic apeal (@AmouagePerfumes)
  • Oman Air - young fleet, best in class BC seat, strong regional routes (@omanair)
  • Oman Sail - world class team, several recent successes on the world tour, solid local roots and case for existence, mix of sports, heritage, lifestyle story (@OmanSail)

All in all I think probably Oman Sail is currently the best positioned to take a lead on internationally most known Omani brand. However a bit more coordination (I am not assuming there is none) between the strategies of all three could result in benefits for all of them. E.g. why not see a Frankincense or Amouage boat in the Oman Sail fleet? Why not create an Oman Sail line of Amuage fragrances for a sporty, fresh feel.

Any other candidates you'd ad?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The brand promise of Oman. Delivered?

What comes to your mind first when you think of Oman?  What colors, feelings, scents do you associate with Oman? How would Oman look like had it been a person? What are you most proud of as an Omani when you think of your country? These are all important question from tourism and country brand perspective.

Most likely the Brand Oman Management Unit has done its homework before coming up with the country branding strategy and collateral.
According to them the brand has the following core elements:
  • turtle, ocean wave and life - navy blue color wave (in the logo)
  • mountains - light blue siluette of the mountain 
  • dhow - dark blue shape reflecting the tip of the dhow boat
  • frankincense - light green shape
Not a bad call at all. These are pretty much the unique features the country has to offer.  Like with any brand the promise has to be kept. Any tourist visiting the country should find it difficult to leave without unwillingly meet most of these features. Is that really the case today?

We have so many museums, but we don't have (or I am not aware of) a House of Frankincense where the whole story of this great natural product is presented in a creative and interactive way. Visitors could experience and understand that importance of frankincense in the history of Omanis. 

Same could be said with the Dhow. There are some initiatives in Sur and maybe elsewhere, but an interesting and creative Dhow heritage center is yet to be done. This should be by the sea and include several interactive features for visitors. Would be a very nice and challenging work for any museum and visitor attraction planner.

The mountains and wadis do most of job themselves, however some visitors centers in the most popular mountain destinations (Jebel Ahkdar, Jebel Shams, Wadi Bhani Khalid, Wadi Sham etc.) could do a lot of justice for these marvelous places and help protect their environment. And offer jobs for locals.

There is an  Ocean and sea life museum (Aquarium and Marine Science & Fisheries Centre) at the  Marina Bandar Al Rowdha in Sidab but it's somewhat outdated, could really  take a nice revamp and some new features that would worth the trip from Muscat for any visitor.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Red balloon over the stadium

I have had the fortune of wining a ticket to the Oman - Australia match before the holidays, through Mr.Sythe's blog. For my first time seeing Oman play live I had great fun and enjoyed the atmosphere.  For a country where football is so popular and with so much potential for change, there is a whole lot more that could be done to improve the experience and the show.  (I noted that the Omani Football Association OFA has launched a few new initiatives like the Super Fan Program or the Support the Shirt Program. These are all good initiatives and merit attention, but they mainly focus on the online sphere less on the show itself. I also noted that the FunZone section of OFA website is still empty).  I thought to put down a few ideas myself, perhaps they will be useful for the OFA and whomever else has a say in the Omani Football.

1. Improvements of the fan experience:
  • Place more, much more (temporary) signage around the stadium to direct to parking areas and different stands (VIP, Media etc.)
  • A half time raffle or anything similar with perhaps a short half time show will do a lot of good for the overall experience and spice up the idle time   
  • Install giant LCD screen capable of the live showing TV footage
  • Besides vending table/points, engage walking vendors on the stands, it increases the sales and make experience more comfortable especially if you need a bottle of water every 20 minutes
  • Instead of one-sip small water cups, better use water in 300ml plastic bags with a straw that is equal safe and no need to buy 6 or 10 to temper your thirst.
2. Commercial ideas:
  • Design aOFA polyester or artificial silk shals/masars, much better in this climate than the knitted scarfs which are hot, heavy and less appealing. Adding on OFA designed funky hand fans for cooling can also be a practical merchandise gadget.
  • Create larger merchandise points, not just for shirts but also other items (hats, fans, full gear with name printing on etc.)
  • Consider creating a large red hot air balloon with OFA sign on (or any other head sponsor if not FIFA rules apply) that can be lifted over the stadium on each match day. It would be seen from many areas of Muscat (including Expressway and SQ HW traffic) informing that its a match-day. In case of Oman victory 11 smaller red hot air baloon can be released at the end of the match so everybody in Boshar, Khuwair and Ansab Seeb would know about the triumph without even being there. It also can be done in a bit of a ceremonial way (player of the match releasing the balloons etc.)

The idea of charging for the entry to most matches (tickets from RO 2) will probably justify more the case for an improved fan experience.  These are relatively low cost ideas (with the exception of the LCD screen) and can have a nice impact.

Next time you can see the Reds will the their match against Ireland on the 11th of September in London (Fulham stadium).

Monday, 3 September 2012

Leisure to do list for 2012-2013

I decided to do a selective leisure to do lists for the 2012-2013 winter seasons in Oman. I am not sure me and my family will be able to tick all of these but we will try our best. I also plan to come back with some short blogs on the travel ones. Let's see how it goes...

  • sniff the air above 3000 meters on Jebel Shams - details
  • stay overnight at a local family at a traditional home in the interior - no details yet
  • visit the lost village of  As Sab in Wadi An Nakhur - details
  • dive at the Daymaniat Island - details
  • go fishing with a local fishermen in Al Jerry Village, Musandam - no details yet
  • drive up Wadi Ghul and climb to the top of the "Grand Canyon of Arabia" - details
  • get some pampering in Zighi Bay Six Senses hotel - details
  • complete my first (sprint) triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) - details
  • bike up the Col of Al Amirat serpentine - details
  • tennis once a week - in JAS
  • soccer once a week (provided my colleges are not too lazy to join) - in Bowsher at the lamp round about
  • some yoga and stretching once a week - details
I could go on, but better to commit for something that is achievable. What would your list be?