Sunday, 27 January 2013

Making the most out of cruisers

We are well into the cruise ship tourist season. In case you take a walk on the Mutrah Cornish practically any time between 9am and 4pm you'll most probably meet holidaymakers anchored in Muscat for the day.

Hotel operators and owners don’t really like cruise liners as they are huge  floating hotels that don’t bring any value guests for them. With quite a few of  these ships having around 1000 cabins (some have 1500) they typically carry between 1000 and 2500 passengers.  No wonder retailers and museums have a different take on this than local hoteliers. The volume these cruise liners create for them can amount up to hundreds of additional clients/guests per day. In 2011 these floating villages have disembarked close to 250,000 visitors in Oman.
Due to their very short length of stay and the fact that they are fully served on the ships, it is very difficult for any destination to squeeze value out of this transient traffic.
But due to their shier size the industry should focus more in finding ways to cater for these guests. Here are a few ideas:
  • Visitor center for the Al Alam palace and Mirani Fort: there are practically hundreds of visitors daily walking around the palace and its parade square without the opportunity to get any insight into this impressive attraction. While recognizing that public access (even if limited) might not be an option, a visitor center perhaps presenting the story of the Royal Family and the development of the modern Oman would be something relevant.
  • Rethinking of the food and retail offering of Mutrah Cornish and Souk.  Like I said before, there is a lot more that can be done in that front, especially in terms of Omani cuisine.
  • SQ Port area regeneration: to my knowledge a comprehensive re-conceptualization of the port is under way with various versions of a new master plans exiting. It is still unknown (at least to the public) when this is going to materialize. A truly leisure centric regeneration concept with restaurants, cafes, fish market and carefully selected retail outlets (not to jeopardize the offering of the Mutrah Souk) could open up more the purses of these travelers.
  • “Truly Arabian show” – a dance and musical hour show around a regional legend or similar topic, focused on artistically showcasing parts of the Arabian culture or history. It could be performed late afternoons at a suitably converted location in Mutrah area
  • Lastly a crazier one: cable car to a panoramic viewpoint in Muscat. Could be coupled with a restaurant as well. Using up the natural assets of the city and its surroundings, this feature would be a unique feature in the region.
Even if these attractions would not always yield a high return on investment, the impression given to these short stay visitors would convert them into international advocates of Muscat as a must see destination. I would not underrate that.

Photo: Sebastian Abbot/The Associated Press

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Jabal Akhdar Resort delayed

It seems there is no magic around hotel development in Oman. The much expected Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort developed by Omran  is announced to be delayed with a year. A 90 days extension was awarded based on a variation order for construction of an additional building. As of January 2013 the project is above 50% completion. Expected opening is  Q4 2014 as opposed to Q4 2013.

I was on my way of getting exited on the push this property would give to the domestic tourism, when this news reminded me of the coded mismatch between planning and realization in this part of the world.

Anyways, given the relatively short delay, I thought would still worth having a look at the proposed concept. Alila is a Singapore based small hotel operator and brand. Their proprieties are promoted as luxury hotels and seem like a lighter version of the more established Aman Resorts. I have never been at any of their six properties (two in Bali, two in Jakarta, one in Bangalore and Goa) but have looked on the reviews the corporate website and checked some of the pricing. This property is planed as a 78  86-room luxury hotel with extensive spa and relaxation offering along with a cliff-side restaurant and pool. Alila was selected as a strategic partner for Omran, as they expressed interest in also managing other future properties in Oman.

I hope it will not cost too much Omran to get Alila run their hotel, as I see little value in having such a brand on this particular property targeting primarily the local and regional market.  Generically I would say you are better off with your own brand rather then going for an expensive international operator when most of the following conditions apply: 
  • your location is just great and it pretty much sells itself,
  • you have relatively easy access to your sender markets, though own channels or online travel agents (like etc.)
  • you don't have much competition in terms of rate, your product is clearly higher in value proposition, and last but not least
  • when you cannot afford an international operator (intl' brand affiliation is an expensive operating cost and can pretty much kill your profits).
Looking at the above, it seems to me that a well construed own brand would make just about the same work or better than Alila would. Of course with a proper management and sales channels in place to address the local and regional markets.
I guess we will have to wait and see.

After posting the above I have been informed by Omran's communication people that some of the information above was not accurate. I was sourcing the factual data from publicly available articles and websites. While I tend to double check what I quote and always link the references, I cannot possible verify the accuracy of these sources. That being said I thank Omran for their clarifications and interest in this blog, and have amended my post to reflect the new information received.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Vocational job creation

So here we are in 2013.  Sure with lots of plans, hopes and resolutions.

Just saw that the government aims to create 56,000 jobs forOmanis this year:  36,000 in the public sector (of which 20,000 in military) and 16,000 in the private sector. Wow! That’s over 1000 freshmen every week of the year.  There is certainly a challenge in the volume and also the relatively short period over which they have to be achieved. One might think this will not encourage quality in the selections.
Perhaps on the longer term, some more consideration could be also given to the qualitative, vocational aspects of job creation.  It is hard to believe that all those 20,000 who will be newly employed by the military, do see their carriers as soldiers or support staff. Perhaps a lot of them yes but more likely not most of them.
May sound a bit like leapfrogging some stages of labor market development, but I think employers should have an increasingly vocational perspective towards new hires. Even when it comes to quotas.  Asking people why they are going for that job should not only be a checklist interviewing question. Add on  how do they imagine a day work in that position looks like, and what they see themselves doing in five years, and you’ll pretty quickly get all parts of the puzzle.

There is nothing more disappointing than seeing a service person hating his/her job. Especially in the hospitality and tourism related service areas. It’s not only about service level and quality. It’s also about the sustainability of employment figures. Those people forced in their jobs, sooner or later will feel frustrated and quit, or survive day by say doing a crappy job and discouraging others who might like what they do and want to be good at it. The labor market does not really work on a meritocratic basis (at least not for the Omanis) and in most of the cases, if you have the nerves you can hold onto a position for quite some time without really excelling at it, to say the least. As a result you would be better trying to choose something that you feel some vocational call for.  Assisting youngsters in a vocational job selection is something would do a lot of good in this country. A combination of high school programs and more conscious hiring practice would certainly yield results in the medium to long term.

The other extreme is having your hobby as your job and be lucky enough to a make a good living out of it. Where are you on the scale…?