Saturday, October 25, 2008

Diwan and Ministry of Tourism manage to get bad press for His Majesty in the UK

An interesting story in the UK press yesterday (as linked to by the always on the ball Muscati) is all about how the Sultan of Oman has spoilt Christmas. I for one would not like to be the person responsible for getting HM named in a headline like this:
Oman holiday plans wrecked by Sultan.
Thousands of travellers face losing their Christmas holidays in Oman after Sultan orders hotels to be emptied for a conference.
.
This is bad. It makes HM look like he himself decided to personally play the lead role in an Omani version of The Grinch who stole Christmas.


Ah yes: The combined forces of administrative excellence embodied by the civil servants at the Diwan (Royal Affairs) and the Ministry of Tourism have apparently managed to ruin the holiday plans of hundreds of tourists who had hoped to come here in the height of the peak season.

The poor tourists had understandably pre-booked hotels and flights some time ago. Only to have the Diwan tell the Ministry of Tourism (sic) to just go-ahead and confiscate all Oman's best hotel rooms for the period Dec 24 - Dec 30th. The poor English dears can't be blamed for not knowing that hotel bookings are not required in Oman for those with enough Wasta.

Here's one of the letters (source: Daily Telegraph) from the Ministry of Tourism...


So, I would think a potentially career limiting move by who-ever was responsible. I notice the letter was sent over the signature of one HE Mohammed Al Tobi, MOT Undersec. Well done the Minister for delegating that one. OK, they might need the hotels, but to imagine that you can, in a tourist market as limited as Oman, in peak season during Xmas/New year, just give 2 months notice via letter to summarily take all the rooms in the 6 best hotels, and without paying compensation, is naive to say the least. It doesn't matter that the Government own the hotels.

You can still see that news of the Diwan's block booking has yet to filter through to the travel agents, eg here at 'The Holiday Place'.co.uk.

Special Quiz for my Non-Native English speaker readers:
Test your knowledge of quaint traditional English idiom! Can you arrange the following 4 words/phrases to describe the diplomatic, Public Relations and commercial skills of the Omani Government's organisers of accomodation for the GCC conference?
1- organise
2- in a brewery
3- couldn't
4- a piss-up

(Answer at the bottom of the page)

Unfortunately, I suspect this is a story that will be picked up across the world. Someone in the Diwan and Foreign Affairs Ministries - and perhaps someone a little more senior than those perviously in charge? - should get on the case and act fast to provide compensation and turn the story into more of a "There is a Santa! - Generous Sultan rescues Christmas for hundreds of English families"...

here's the full article - I especially like the last line...
what a load of muppets.
Oman holiday plans wrecked by Sultan
Thousands of travellers face losing their Christmas holidays in Oman after Sultan orders hotels to be emptied for a conference.

By Charles Starmer-Smith
24 Oct 2008

The Christmas holiday plans of thousands of travellers wanting to visit Oman have been wrecked after their hotel bookings were cancelled to allow the Sultanate to stage a conference.

The Gulf Co-operation Council Summit (GCC), attended by the heads of state of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Oman, was originally scheduled for June last year, but was postponed because of the cyclone that struck Oman. It was rescheduled for November 18-26, but on Tuesday of this week was moved to December 26-30, the peak week for travel.

Every room in six of Oman’s leading hotels, including two Shangri- La properties, three Intercontinentals and the Grand Hyatt, is being given over to those attending the conference – a move that one British tour operator said is likely to result in legal action.

“It is outrageous. I am stunned by their arrogance,” said Nick Van Gruisen, managing director of The Ultimate Travel Company. “This will put the many operators who have booked rooms in good faith in breach of their contract with their holidaymakers. We have been given seven weeks’ notice and it will be impossible to find them alternative Christmas holidays at this late stage.”

Mohammed Al Tobi, the under-secretary for the Omani Ministry of Tourism, this week wrote to the general manager of the Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, in which the two Shangri-La properties are housed, and ordered “that immediate measures be taken to ensure that both the Al Bandr and Al Husn hotels will be at the complete disposal of the Diwan of the Royal Court [central body of bureaucratic affairs] from December 24-30”.

Mr Van Gruisen said that customers of his company who were due to travel to Oman had already paid and had been left with their Christmas plans in tatters. Many might feel inclined to boycott the country as a holiday destination in future.

Lesley Rollo, managing director of Thomson Worldwide, said that it would give a full refund to all clients whose holidays have been affected by the conference.

Holidaymakers who have booked rooms in the six hotels independently will not be entitled to refunds on their flights and have little hope of finding other accommodation.

Hoteliers in Oman said they have been given no choice but to try to send customers elsewhere or make refunds.

Tony Zamora, director of operations at Intercontinental Hotels Group in Oman, said it only received confirmation on Tuesday that the summit was to take place, and all three of its hotels in Muscat – the Al Bustan Palace Intercontinental Muscat, the Intercontinental Muscat and the Crowne Plaza Muscat – were needed.

“We already have a number of reservations for this period and are truly sorry for the inconvenience this is likely to cause. We will work with our travel partners to make alternative arrangements, including offering accommodation at our sister hotels in the region and alternative dates at the hotels affected,” said Mr Zamora.

A spokeswoman confirmed that the hotels have nearly 550 people booked in during that period.

A spokesman for the Shangri-La hotel group said it had no choice but to follow the directive, but added that all deposits for rooms in the Al Bandar and Al Husn will be refunded. “This is a situation that is entirely out of our control as these are directives from the highest levels of authority within the Sultanate of Oman and we are compelled to comply,” he said. “We sincerely regret the disruption and distress this will cause.”

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for Abta, said the situation could be damaging for the hotels and the destination as a whole.

The Oman Tourist Board was unavailable for comment as we went to press.

3-1-4-2

21 comments:

  1. Terrible PR move.... But there we have it. I agree, surely the Diwan can spring for the tickets of those that have been affected by this. I'd be surprised if there wasn't some sort of legal action.

    Some Omani commenters on a popular forum appear to be of the stance that those holidaymakers are whining!! Cheeky cunts. Imagine clearing out all the Hotels in Eid for a conference, and then imagine the outrage. Talk about how NOT to impress your target market.

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  2. And to take this further, I presume that all the bars in these hotels will be out of action during the Christmas week too, and NYE too?

    3-1-4-2 indeed.

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  3. This is completely typical of Oman.
    The arrogance, the complete lack of respect and the simple "Fuck You" attitude of the government in general.

    This is one of the reasons why I would never buy a property here. You just have no idea when or what promises will be reneged on or changed at the last minute.

    Frustrating and laughable at the same time.
    As you said: "Couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery."

    Oman is basically the Yemen of the GCC. The other states in the group would be shot of them first chance that came up!

    Minimum oil deposits and just barely hanging on in there and now massive property developments and tourism drive. "Come to Oman" exhibitions all over Europe. The one I saw in Berlin was hilarious!

    Now this.....classic!

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  4. Have the entourages really ballooned nowadays or something? I recall that back in the day they would only take over the Bustan? Or does my memory deceive me?

    -Omani in US

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  5. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/charles_starmer-smith/blog/2008/10/24/sultan_ruins_christmas_in_oman_

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  6. Silly, its a big, big away day for the lads and they need the extra rooms for all the totty.

    Bobindubai

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  7. Yeah. Probably we should ruin our own Eid and our own National Day by hosting the GCC summit in late-November early-December to please the beloved Christmas holidaymakers.

    There's NO freakin' time other than the end of December to hold this summit!

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  8. Spoke to someone at a hotel two weeks ago and he assured me that his GM said the conference would happen as planned (now wrong). Spoke to someone else who was part of an official delegation to check the Al Bustan last Eid (3/4 weeks ago) and the quote was "lucky HM wasn't there or heads would roll.." Presumably heads are now rolling. (They've only known about it for the last six years)

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  9. Anon Lurker
    It'll certainly be a week of closed motorways, lots of helicopters, and security to the max. In the past the bars at, say, the Intercon have stayed open, but who can know.

    Anon 1
    It is pretty representative of the way many in the Government don't yet 'get' the way the business world actually works. It is easy to damage a reputation, and it's especially a pity if that's a reputation you're spending massive amounts on promoting. And to do this without having a communication plan for the media is also typical. They aren't used to needing to actually liaise with the media, the local ones are so totally docile.

    In this respect the report is unfortunately accurate that it captures a certain essence of how things still work in Oman wrt the arrogance of the Government compared to the wider economy or average people.

    OIUS
    I agree it seems pretty OTT to block all 6 hotels for a week, expanded entourage or not (extra totty not withstanding Bob). Thats a LOT of rooms. But I understand the Al Bustan will still be where the conference actually happens. Most of the refurbishment is finished already.

    BeeBop
    Yeah, saw that one too. Thanks for the link.

    Amjad,
    Its got nothing to do with religion, or Christmas vs Eid. The 3 weeks from ~13th Dec to ~ 5th Jan are the main European and North/South American holiday period, even for atheists. It's not a matter of pleasing 'the beloved Christmas holidaymakers', but running an effective international tourist business in a world with LOTS of competition, especially given the not low-budget nature of the Omani targeted market. They are Oman's customers, chosing to spend their hard-earned foreign currency in Oman. Foreign currency Oman can use to buy Landcruisers and buy food, for example. Money that employs Omanis.

    In addition, when the Government makes decisions/takes actions that get such bad reports about HM published in the international media, in my book by definition thats a cock-up, regardless of the legitimacy of the original cause. Thats what PR is about. Yes, the report failed to understand the political pressure and wider considerations than a few dissapointed tourists, but what other reaction would one expect, especially if there is not other information provided, and a stellar 'no comment' from the Ministry of Tourism. Thats just incompetence, isn't it? (I know excusing incompetence is a national sport in the Middle East, but this one is hard to blame on the usual external excuses Americans/Zionists/British/Iranians/etc)
    And of course they have to hold it sometime, somewhere. Again, that's not the issue. The issue is doing it late, and putting yourself in a situation where the only option is to piss off loads of the very tourists you've been spending money trying to attract, without considering the implications for the country's reputation.

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  10. UD, so what do you think should be done, and when do you think the summit should be held?

    If a 60 days notification is not enough, then I dunno what is...

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  11. organiser of p*** ups in breweriesOctober 26, 2008 at 11:37 AM

    Amjad, I quote: 'There's NO freakin' time other than the end of December to hold this summit!'

    Then why did the government decide on November to begin with? Isn't the problem more that they've changed their mind (after choosing badly the first time)rather rather than whether it coincides with Xmas or not? Whilst I appreciate the government's right to choose the dates they should choose once and stick with it. Last time I checked, the 18th of November occurs once a year at the same time and whilst we may not have known the exact dates of Eid we all knew it would be some time round the beginning of December - so why did they choose November?

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  12. It is the prerogative of the state to decide on the timing to hold conferences like AGCC summit. I don’t see any reason for the guys at Telegraph to run a ‘maligning story’ just because holidays of a few were affected. Like Amjad said, 60 days, more so in this part of the world, is a decent time to give notice to hotel management. And the talks of tourists boycotting Oman is a big joke. If 100s decided to walk away, 1000s will come…Oman has such magical charm.

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  13. Kishor cariappa... Duh, what a dozzo! Wake-up you plonker, this is the 21st Century my man.

    Bobibdubai

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  14. Amjad, Kishor Cariappa, You guys just dont get it do you?

    Oman has known about this gig for SIX YEARS. Ok, so Gonu came and fucked everything up, and so they decided, over a year in advance, I'll say that again, OVER A YEAR IN ADVANCE, that it would be held at the tail end of November. National holiday is 18th November. Eid2 is going to be the start of December. So from the 20th to the 30th of November, for example, there IS NO EID, OR NATIONAL HOLIDAY, so Amjad, STFU with your pathetic argument about ruining your own holidays, your Government fucking CHOSE THOSE DATES.

    The decision to bump the date to December 26-30 was made, and presumably was made recently. THAT IS NOT THE FAULT OF ANY POOR SOUL THAT HAS BOOKED A HOTEL ROOM AND FLIGHT.

    The Government changed the dates. People have already booked in for their holidays, and now are left with nowhere to go, and more importantly, NO COMPENSATION. That is not their fault. All it will take is one single publication from the Ministry of Tourism that is in, for example, the UK, that says something like "come to the Sultanate for Christmas" and the MoT are going to find that they will be sued in the UK courts.

    The ONLY solution to this mess is to offer fair and reasonable compensation to the poor people that have been affected by this date change. 1 Million rials to rectify a PR disaster is, in my mind, a no brainer, especially when you factor in how many Millions of Rials have been spent to promote tourism here.

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  15. its not right but u dont make a statement like that ... the title in the paper i mean

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  16. KC, BID, AL
    Steady, try to keep it civil. The idea is surely (at least initially) to change minds, not beat them to a pulp.

    As for Oman's magical charm, people can get magical charm almost anywhere. Tourism is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Why else do you think people can fly for a whole week to the far east and stay in nice hotels for less than a few hundred rials?

    JJ
    (I'm presuming you mean the UK newspaper's headline?)
    Ahh, such is the problem with a relatively free press - they pander to their audience, which ain't Oman, but (in this case)loads of people with no holiday and a bill for flights they can't cancel (and all their families and friends). And they can go ahead and publish even without permission from anyone, including Oman's MoT.

    In fact, the language may be designed to try and help get compensation!

    If the story is not true and is not fair comment, and if damages can be proved, HM could sue.

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  17. Organizer of p*** ups in breweries:

    I, myself, don't understand how and why did Oman request to have the summit in late-November, when it's always held in December and when Oman cannot hold the summit in late-November because of the National Day. I haven't heard anything about Oman requesting to have the summit in late-November until UD provided this official letter sent by H.E. Mohammed al-Tobi to hotel managements and said that the summit was originally scheduled for late-November. It still doesn't make sense to me though.

    Anonymous Luker:

    Nop. You are wrong. Oman is not free between the 20th of November till the 30th. I am not really sure if you live in Oman or not, but if you do, you will know that the National Day celebrations don't only take two days. They take at least one week, and after that week, Mawlana His Majesty hosts his own official & personal dinners, and after that there is the two days official holiday for the National Day. Can Oman hold the GCC summit in an official holiday? Nop. After those two-days official holiday, we have the beginning of December, when the Hajj season begins and then Eid comes. Eid takes a week as well with the official holiday and everything, so only the last 10 days of December are left.

    What do you mean by people whose reservations were canceled have no where to go? It's not like their reservations were canceled as soon as they arrived Oman. They still have 60 days to make other plans! There are other hotels in Oman, you know. If these cancellations were made in late November or beginning of December, I would understand their anger, but Christmas is 60 days ahead for God's sake.

    And who told you that the government is not willing to offer compensations to those whose reservations were canceled?

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  18. Muscat's Hotels are 100% fully booked for the Christmas season, Raddisson was fully booked months ago, Chedi was fully booked months ago, and there are no other hotels even remotely close to quality of service available here. And you're assuming that these Tourists would know where to go anyway.

    Nope, I wont change my stance. A decision was made for late November by the Government of Oman. The fact that it has been changed by the Government is PURELY there decision, and as such, they are liable to pay for the consequences. I live in Oman, and last year I had a day off for the National Holiday on the 18th of November, that was it. One begs to ask the question, what is more important to the Sultan, keeping to a previously agreed timetable and hosting this oh so important, lets screw over our most important homegrown industry, summit, or having lots of dinners at 2 O'Clock in the morning?

    Besides, all of this is moot. If there were conflicts with the end of November dates, then why on earth were they accepted? Almost certainly because they were agreed to. So someone somewhere reneged. Doesnt matter what way you spin your stance Amjad, the Government of Oman dropped the ball, and just ran off the field too. I really dont get why so many hotels were ordered completely shut, why are so many rooms needed? How many people does it take to have a meeting?

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  19. Amjad, AL

    While I agree the Gov. screwed up a bit here, I do think in the scheme of things for the conference its a bit of a storm in a tea cup. A simple bit of compensation was overlooked, some mishandling, but lets not go totally overboard. Knowing Oman, it'll get sorted. No body's perfect (see my earlier correction about the pub stabbing that was actually in Shatti).

    No no big deal. Except for the article and its headline, which was bad and I would guess very insulting to most Omanis, because it didn't really tell it how it actually is, and it portrayed HM unfairly in a bad light...

    I certainly found it insulting and parochial. But that part was a real 'dropped ball' on the part of someone. Not an issue about some tourists.

    No one on this planet thinks HM personally organizes accommodation plans for flunkies!!

    I think the most important thing is what happens next. And I'm very curious to find out.

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  20. You're quite right... got a bit excited there...! I'm sure it will all get sorted.

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