Monday, 30 April 2012

Boot-camps for C-level executives?

Incentive travel is the invention of the modern corporate world.  It’s only a few decades old. Initially its main aim was to reward employees for achieving certain business objectives and was conceived like a mere pleasure ride in nice destinations. Only recently with the development of HR disciplines has been flavored with personal development elements: trainings, skills test, business simulations, role plays, personality tests etc.

The seas, mountains, dunes and wadis of Oman, clearly lend the country for adventure type inventive trips, and taking into account its upscale resort offering, even to pure laid back luxury trips. However, what could possible position Oman on a very high competitive spot in the incentive travel market is a concept built on a holistic approach to executive personal development.

The sole goal of such a trip would be to enable participates to become better, more successful leaders, while becoming healthier and happier. Beside classic components of executive development like in-depth personal assessment, coaching, originality in leadership, a range of other subjects should also be addressed like nutrition, fitness, health risk and last but not least memorable spa experiences, outdoor challenges like sailing, wadi bashing, off road driving, orientation etc.  Participants should be able to characterize a successful trip with the likes of: "I know more about myself than 10 days ago", "I feel healthier than 10 days ago", "Now I know how to stay away from unnecessary stress", "This should be on the to do list of most executives", "I feel this made me a better leader".

A combination of individual and team exercises, physical and mental activities, competitive and introspective exercises as well as spa treatments and culinary experiences should be considered.  All performed under the guidance of personal coaches, activity instructors (sailing, driving, climbing etc.), psychologists, graphologists, nutritionists, yoga (holistic health) instructors and doctors.

Sounds like an expensive package I know. Maybe it has to have a 5 days version as well. But with some fine tuning and detailing, such a retreat concept could be developed into a world class offering, and with a bit of smart marketing can become a unique attraction for Oman as well as a successful business.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


Take domestic tourism seriously. Any country that is hoping on significant GDP contribution of tourism should take this advise. In the challenging quest of attracting international visitors and banking on their spending inflow, it is easy to forget about the potential of domestic demand. This segment might not be as valuable in terms of current account contribution but it is crucial in terms of stability and sustainability of the tourism of a country. We have seen what a 9/11 or a SARS-like crisis can do for destinations relying only on international travellers (typically remote or island destinations). Those who had a solid domestic demand (e.g. Germany, France) managed to live through these much easier.

So Oman should not forget about its few hundred thousand of regular regional travelers and should perhaps focus on extracting value by offering ever more experience. There are several ways of doing this but one that recently came to my mind is the creation of a domestic tourism program, say "Omanventure".

The idea would be to set up a high number of domestic trips (from Salala and the Empty Quarter all the way up to Musandam) grouped, categorized and described in a cool website and booklet.  Each category of trip would have more concrete routes described, graded and ranked.  We could have a "wadi wanderer" a "wild off-roader" or a "family off-roader" a "nomad camper" category with 5-8 trips under each. So far not much special, quite a few books have already done this.

The essence of this program would be to actually take the whole thing online, associate a tick-list to all of these trips and to record the fact that one has done it. An online point and status system can be created (can eventually run under facebook or own site depending on resources).  Each set of trips can have a minimum of 5-6 routes to complete before you can earn that particular status of say a "coastal cruiser" or if you have a boat you can potentially become a "sealife spotter" etc.  Of course all of this can also apply to divers and come up with say “shark whisperer” or other.

Reporting completion can be done like in geotracking or on birder (bird watching) sites, namely on a self declared basis.  If someone have completed all of the given types and track can claim the "Omanventurer" status. Time limits of retaining this can also be set. etc. etc. It would also be a good way for tourism planners to track the popularity of domestic destinations and enhance the thematic nature of regions and attractions. 
Now besides the fun where's the deal? I sense in a few points, like certain regions can start promoting themselves on this platform, can set up little gift shops, coffee shop with name of track, eventually small visitor centre and benefit from the fact that those coming to their village region would most likely check this site before.

I have not fully elaborated on the idea but I feel there could be quite some potential in this. Retailers, car maker etc. can all hook up to the opportunity and created domestic marketing for the great regions of Oman. What do you think?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

4x4 park = fun + benefit

Oman just simply lends itself for adventure and active tourism.  One can work on positioning the country as anything more than that but one thing for sure, Oman is just the best place to put your tracking boots at work, pull on your main sail, or try out your latest nature photography gear. And why not show your current and future customers what your new 4x4 model is capable of doing.
Being fairly accessible from two major car markets of the region UAE and Saudi and offering a nice mix for a a fun 2-day getaway, I think any of the major off road manufacturer could hugely benefit from setting up a high quality 4x4 fun part somewhere outside of Muscat.

Izuzu has such a great 4x4 park in Pattaya, Thailand and besides being a state of the art test track offers great attraction for tourism and local alike.
So if it's not obvious than here are a few arguments:

Why Oman:
  • It is perceived (and it is) as the best off road destination in GCC
  • Proximity to major 4xa and awd car markets
  • So many perfect sites for such a park in proximity of Muscat

  • Great complementary offering for the tourism attractions of the country
  • Bodes well with the incentive tourism destination image (especially with the efforts of the ministry to promote Oman as a conference and incentive tourism destination)
  • Local population love off road cars and driving, there would be a solid local demand to sustain the facility
  • A major marketing boost for the brand(s) that will take the initiative and implement the idea
  • Perfect opportunity for job creation (driving instructors, maintenance and admin people, booking and back office people)

So, Toyota-Lexus, Nissan-Infinity, Mitsubisi-Jeep, or Land Rover who is going to take the first call.  I think is fair to assume that the tourism authorities would be gland to hear about such an initiative.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

"Beauty has an address"

There is a lot of work being done on the promotion of Oman as a tourism destination. Obviously the ministry has taken the bull by the horns and is attacking the world travel market on several fronts. “The beauty has an address-Oman" campaign with adverts on CNN and other global media, creation of a new tourism promotion portal, the new country brand development are all part of an orchestrated effort.  Besides these softer issues, the tourism infrastructure is also under heavy fire: new airport terminal to be opened soon, new convention Centre coming up, major hotel projects under way, Sultan Qaboos Port redevelopment project etc.  Remote wadis and mountain areas becoming easily accessible through the increasing number of new paved roads. This is all exiting for me as traveler or resident, let for the tourism professional. I think the challenge is huge, however with the resources made available and the right lessons learnt a lot can be done in relatively short time.

Taking note of all these positive trends I took the liberty to list a few things that I think are still missing or are not yet satisfactory. Few thought on the first, and then future posts to follow on the others. 

Creating a country brand is almost always a very difficult exercise and involves huge responsibility. Almost always a board composed of public figures, artists, celebrities, advertising-, media- and tourism specialists is involved. The responsibility can only be with such a forum especially in light of the costs that are involved. There is a very fine balance between creating something that is very creative and has the potential for a huge impact (but possibly difficult to digest by officials), or just doing something for the sake of ticking a box and actually not creating any new value.

In an efficient tagline --or slogan if you like-- there has to be a certain degree of wit oand hmmm effect. It has to be a great deal aspirational, not just an eye or ear catcher as it almost never works alone. It is accompanied at least by a logo but more often complex imagery or even videos.  While “The beauty has an address-Oman” does relatively well on the first criteria of cathing the ear, it does not fly on the second of being aspirational. It perhaps catches your ears but it does not make you wonder what Oman is like. It does not challenge your curiosity. It is almost like an oxymoron.
Perhaps trying more to play on the purity, the originality the untouched nature of the country, the genuine human values that are still to be found in these societies, the essence of Arabian culture would have made a better job as well. Just leaving the "-Oman" out would significantly improve the slogan. It would be more intriguing  more ear catcher and for those who would worry that it looses the point, it does not. Almost always comes in a context where the puzzle is solved immediately.

But again, do not get me wrong, the current slogan is better than most of Oman competitors have in the region. Let’s just have a quick look:  “Definitely Dubai” - not bad, “Abu Dhabi - A destination of distinction” - i bet it is..., “Saudi – An enriching experience” -- rich right..., “Bahrain – Manama Capital of Arab Culture”...for sure, “Qatar – As independent as you are”...what?!, “Ras Al Khaima – a rising emirate”...that's what you think..., “Sharja – My destination for precious family moments” I have to go all the way there for those moments...?
As one can see, apart of the one Dubai has all the other are pretty lame some even ridiculous. So well done Oman, and please do even better next time.


Because most of the time I like this country and its people. Because on a daily basis I face situations where I feel that good ideas, some guidance and resources can  --relatively easily-- change things in better. Sometimes much better.
I cannot commit for the guidance and the resources, but definitely do for the ideas and for sharing them. Maybe some of these ideas will meet and resonate with people and thoughts who can provide the guidance and the resources.
This is my way of thanking the good days spent in this great country.
Those who love and care about Oman will either appreciate and remember these notes, or dislike them. Those who do not care will just ignore them.
That's it for now, let's see how it goes.