Arab Gulf

Think about Oman

I admit I was surprised when I read in The Sunday Times travel supplement a year ago that the Sultanate of Oman was recommended by the newspaper as one of the top 10 places in the world to spend a holiday. I had not heard of Oman being a promising tourist destination before I read the article. I thought that Dubai of the United Arab Emirates was the only Arab Gulf city witnessing a tourist boom with its vast stretch beaches, skyscrapers, shopping malls, deluxe hotels, conference rooms and sophisticated ballrooms besides its well paved roads, enormous airport and the quality service it offers to tourists. However, the moment I set foot in Oman’s airport, Al-Seeb International, I felt an exclusive travel experience coming up in a country that doesn’t look like any other.

A mini-van was waiting outside the airport to transport us to the hotel, Muscat Crown Plaza, about 25 minutes from the airport. On the way I saw a country with a distinctive character with its wide roads, its three- and four-storey white buildings with their Islamic architecture, its mighty mountains embracing the buildings, roads and gardens, its greenery — where in an arid country there shouldn’t be — which covers everything around, as well as hundreds of birds flying here and there relaxing on trees or on the ground or at a home window sill.

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A view of the Crown Plaza Muscat Hotel overlooking the Gulf of Oman

So what can Oman offer travellers? Its deluxe hotels and the high standard of service they offer; its vast virgin beaches overlooking the Arab Gulf and the Indian Ocean; its old souqs that sell traditional craft, old silver, spices, embroidery and incense; plus modern malls that offer the latest international brands of clothes, watches, sunglasses, jewellery; and above all its clean air, its slow pace, its quiet and its warm people.

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Souk Mutrah, where you can buy traditional products

Besides hotels, souqs and beaches, Oman is privileged to have a unique environment. The shimmering blue ocean holds a wealth of marine life — exotic fish, dolphins, turtles and some of the best coral formations in the world. If you drive a few hours from the city centre you’ll find yourself transported into a different world, from rose gardens perched atop mountains, ancient ruins, blowholes, one of the largest subterranean chambers in the world, to misty mountains and the undulating splendour of the desert. Wadis and lagoons in Oman are home to hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds.

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A picturesque view of the ocean

When Muscat gets hot and humid in the summer, it is the other way round in Salalah, 1,000kms to the south. Towards the end of June each year, as the khareef season begins, the southern city of Salalah is almost magically transformed. The dull browns are replaced by rolling green hills, misty woods and sparkling mountain springs. Temperatures drop to a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius making Salalah a perfect place to escape the summer heat. Every year, Salalah hold the khareef festival in July and August where visitors enjoy the picturesque landscape and are entertained by folklore dancing.

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Salalah Khareef, when all mountains are covered in green

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Part of the celebration of Salalah festival

History also lies all around you in Oman. This is not surprising as Oman, which lies in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is the oldest independent state in the Arab world. At one time it had its own empire, which at its peak in the 19th century stretched down the east African coast and vied with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The ancient ramparts of Bahla Fort, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is among the most important historical sites in Oman in addition to the carefully preserved Jabrin Castle dating from 1670 and the site of Bat, with neighbouring sites forming a most complete collection of settlements and necropolises from the third millennium BC.

Museums in Oman are also a big attraction. Bait Al-Baranda and Bait Al-Zubair in Muscat are two examples of how Omanis are trying to preserve their culture and heritage. The former is a visitor’s centre detailing the history of Muscat over a hundred million years ago to the present. It has sections dealing with geology in Oman (plate tectonics and scenic diversity in Muscat); ancient life in Muscat; earliest human settlements in Muscat from 10,000 BC to the early Islamic era; Muscat from the first century to 1744 AD; and Al-Bu Said Dynasty. Besides being a visitors’ attraction, Bait Al-Baranda also hosts local and international exhibitions, lectures and other cultural activities.

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Facade of Bait Al Baranda

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Inside Bait Al Baranda

Bait Al-Zubair is also an integral part of Oman’s heritage. Built first as a home in 1914 by Sheikh Al-Zubair Bin Ali, it was opened as a museum in 1998 by his son Mohamed to display aspects of Omani heritage either inherited or collected. Its displays include traditional Omani weaponry, jewellery, costumes, domestic utensils and recreated urban and rural environments.

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Displays at Bait Al Zubair showing traditional customes

Omani officials say their tourism is still a new industry. It started in the early 1990s but is developing quickly. In 2006, Oman received over one million tourists who contributed to one per cent of the total national income of the country.

“Quantity was never our target. We care more about quality. We don’t target mass tourism, only the upmarket,” is how Al-Tobi of the Omani Ministry of Tourism encapsulates their strategy. “Through a well examined marketing process, we target a certain caliber of tourists who respect our culture, our customs and traditions and are able to preserve our environment, our natural surroundings, our flora and fauna. One tourist with these specifications and with high spending potential is better than 10,” Al-Tobi said, adding that they also have a policy of limited building construction. “We never allow skyscrapers or gigantic projects. We have to preserve our identity.”

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The corniche at Muscat at night

Cultural tourism is the number one way of attracting visitors to Oman, especially the kind it is targeting. “We have 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites that date before Christ. We have more than 500 fortresses and we are turning some of them into museums, each with a different theme. We are also thinking of turning some of them into hotels following the old Roman style. Some are already being used as open air theatres,” Al-Tobi said.

Besides culture and history, Oman has nature, geology and adventure such as mountain climbing, bird watching, watching dolphins, whales and turtles, old caves and curative tourism.

Muscat has only six five-star hotels that target the middle and upmarket business and leisure tourists. Since 1999, Oman has been attracting big chains such as the InterContinental, Hyatt and Radisson. In the next few years it will attract small brands as well as budget hotels.

*This article was published in Al Ahram Weekly newspaper in 2006

 

 

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Categories: Arab Gulf, Oman, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Kempinski to open nine hotels this year

Kempinski Hotels is set to open nine new properties this year — including two in Saudi Arabia and one in Egypt — as part of the group’s expansion strategy in the Middle East.

The Kempinski Al Othman Hotel in Al Khobar and the Kempinski Hotel Burj Rafal in Riyadh are both scheduled to open before the year ends, along with the Kempinski Hotel Royal Maxim Cairo in Egypt. Another hotel, the Kempinski Hotel in Jeddah, is scheduled to open in 2015.

The luxury hospitality group sees the region as a key growth area and an important market for outbound tourism to its properties across the world.

“The Kempinski Hotel Royal Maxim will predominately cater to corporate and Mice [meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions] business, as well as major social events as it will have the largest pillar-less ballroom in Cairo. It will be our second hotel in Cairo and it is located in New Cairo, which is close to Cairo International Airport and the American University of Cairo,” said Avsar Koc, Kempinski regional sales director for India, Middle East and Africa.

Kempinski Nile Hotel CairoPhoto: Kempinski Nile Hotel

Kempinski Nile Hotel Cairo
Photo: Kempinski Nile Hotel

Kempinski Nile Hotel

Kempinski Nile Hotel

 

Enhanced by strong growth in the Middle East, Africa, and South-east Asia, Kempinski was able to increase its room revenue by 21 per cent in tandem with a 17 per cent increase in total room nights sold globally. The region contributes almost a third of the revenues for the company, which currently operates a total of 75 five-star hotels in 30 countries. Kempinski returned to Jeddah this week with its seventh annual Middle East Road Show, where they revealed that the group had achieved its best financial results in its history in 2012, with revenues reaching €1.1 billion.

“We have turned Kempinski around from an almost-bankrupt business into a rock-solid one with an equity ratio of well over 40 per cent. With a revenue of €1.1 billion, our hotels passed the billion mark for the first time last year,” said Reto Wittwer, chief executive of Kempinski Hotels.

“As a hotel operator, this makes us a strong and reliable partner for hotel investors and owners. We will continue to plan and work on a long-term basis… Our success proves we are on the right track.”

The Middle East remains a key feeder market for Kempinski hotels in Europe and Asia, such as the Hotel Vier Jaherszeiten Kempinski Munich, the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains St Moritz, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, and the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok. Likewise, hotels such as Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates in Dubai remain popular with Middle East guests.

The Kempinski Al Othman Hotel in Al Khobar will have 141 rooms, 57 suites and 20 serviced apartments. The Kempinski Hotel Burj Rafal will be located in Saudi Arabia’s tallest tower and upon completion will boast 300 luxury guest rooms and suites. The Kempinski Hotel Royal Maxim Cairo in Egypt will feature 248 rooms and suites.

Categories: Arab Gulf, Cairo, Egypt, Hotels, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A New Hotel to open by the Nile in 2016

The Saudi Egyptian Construction Company (SECON) signed recently a management agreement with Hilton Worldwide for its new hotel in Maadi. Hilton international will carry on management of “Hilton Cairo –Nile Maadi hotel’’ upon the completion of the construction.

SECON has designed an hotel that meets the interest of business community as it comprises  a total capacity of 257-rooms along with a 400 square meters conference hall,  two smaller halls, and three meeting lounges and an access to a 24-hour business center. The hotel will also feature a large lobby, spa, swimming pool, two restaurants, and a business lounge.

SECON officials signing the agreement with Hilton Worldwide

SECON officials signing the agreement with Hilton Worldwide

“This is the first Egyptian-Saudi project of its kind. It will endorse commitment and will enhance economic ties between Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Engineer Darweesh Hasanein, chief executive officer of SECON. Hasanein added that the agreement is mainly driven by SECON strong confidence in Egypt’s Economic fundamentals and its ability to attract foreign direct investment.  He also emphasized the intention of Saudi Arabia to increase its investments in Egypt to support the economic growth in Egypt despite the economic and political instability that Egypt faces during this transition period.

Combining collective international, regional and local experts, the new hotel will be managed by, the premium brand, Hilton Worldwide. Hilton International will be managing the project until completion. An Egyptian-Emirati contractor alliance of Arabitiec-Siak and Egyptian consultant EHAF Consulting Engineers will supervise the project, while Egyptian designer Space Consulting Engineers is carrying out the full design for the project.

Construction period is scheduled to be 36 months, starting from February 2013 and will be completed by the beginning of 2016.

Officials of SECON company and Hilton Worldwide

Officials of SECON company and Hilton Worldwide

Hilton Cairo- Nile Maadi Hotel will support the Egyptian local economy and will increase employment rate by creating 2000 new job opportunities in the market.

Rudi Jagersbacher, president middle east area, Hilton Worldwide, expressed great enthusiasm regarding signing this agreement with SECON, which is a significant part of Hilton Worldwide expansion strategy in Egypt. “This encourages us to pursue our hospitality services to all travellers coming to Egypt,” he said.

Categories: Arab Gulf, Cairo, Egypt, Hotels, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JW Marriott Marquis Opens in Dubai

This week, JW Marriott celebrated the opening of a new luxury hotel in the Middle East – the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.  Acquiring the coveted title of World’s tallest hotel from the Guinness Book of World Records, the 72-story property is the first JW Marriott Marquis outside of North America and the 59th addition to the brand’s global luxury portfolio.

The newly opened JW Marriott Marquis Hotel DubaiPhoto: JW Marriott

The newly opened JW Marriott Marquis Dubai
Photo: JW Marriott

Soaring at 355 meters (1,164 feet), the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is just 26 metres shorter than New York City’s famed Empire State Building.

“Dubai is an important destination for Marriott International as one of the world’s most exciting cities offering world-class facilities and infrastructure, central location in the region and future growth potential, “said Arne Sorenson, Marriott International President and CEO “Our expanding collection of world-class JW Marriott hotels offers accomplished travelers a one-of-a-kind luxury experience. The investment in this unique and visually stunning hotel is testament to the continued opportunities that lie ahead for the brand and company.”

In addition to serving luxury business travelers, the hotel, which is owned by Emirates Group, targets the lucrative and increasingly important meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions market by filling a long-identified gap in the region.  Groups, meetings and conventions of up to 1,000 people can now meet, stay and dine, under one roof.  The hotel is the first in Dubai that is able to accommodate large groups and will play a key role in attracting major conventions and events to the destination.  Along with cutting-edge business facilities, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai features more than 7,500 square meters of indoor and outdoor event space, including two ballrooms, and a large selection of world-class dining and entertainment options.

“The opening of this landmark hotel in Dubai is the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication to delivering the very best product, facilities and service in this international gateway city,” said Mitzi Gaskins, Vice President and Global Brand Manager for JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “As our global portfolio continues to grow, we remain dedicated to offering our guests unforgettable travel experiences with intuitive service, thoughtful amenities and refined design, celebrating the authentic flavor of each destination.”

JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai teamPhoto: JW Marriott

JW Marriott Marquis Dubai team
Photo: JW Marriott

The JW Marriott Marquis Dubai offers an enticing array of nine restaurants, and five bars and lounges, including the  sky-high steakhouse Prime 68; the experiential sushi restaurant, Izakaya; and stunning cocktail bar Vault, which is situated on the 71st and 72nd floors and features panoramic views of the city.  The hotel is also home to Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin Star.

The 4,000 square-meter Saray Spa and Health Club draws inspiration from the caravanserai silk route across Arabia, with treatments designed to ensure mind and body renewal.  Treatments include the Signature Milk and Honey treatment, an Arabic Coffee Awakener, and Lemon Mint Body Polish.  A sprawling pool deck covers the 7th floor of the hotel with a 30-metre swimming pool.  Aqua Poolside Bar and Grill draws inspiration from Miami’s renowned South Beach, offering light snacks and beverages throughout the day.

For more information about the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, visit www.marriott.com, or contact the hotel directly on +9714 414 0000

 

Categories: Arab Gulf, Hotels, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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