Sunday, October 26, 2008

What I'd do: The AGCC Conference - and cancelling tourist reservations

Lots of interesting comments on the previous hotel cancelation story. Amjad had a good question: what did I think should be done? Rather than comment back, it started getting a bit long, so here it is as a post.

All in all Amjad - I'd guess I'd have done a hell of a lot more work and planning than seems evident...

1/ Generally the Government should look pretty seriously at who it puts in charge of such things and get someone who can plan and execute a programme of this magnitude more effectively. [That said, I suspect its only a small part of the organisational effort thats going a bit awry.]

2/ On the topic at hand - AGCC date change, hotel and flights cancelled, derogatory stories on Oman and HM in the international media, annoyed hoteliers and travel agents:

The issue is the late timing change - people book holidays many many months in advance. If you - as a travel agent - had made the block hotel bookings and made arrangements with airlines, I doubt you'd want to leave selling the packages you created until just 2 months to go! 60 days is almost nothing.

I would have already had a compensation plan ready to roll out [my estimate, ~1000 people, at 1000 pounds + some PR costs = 1 million rials. Thats peanuts compared to the overall budget for the conference].

I would first have had people pro-actively engage with the travel agents and the hotels, to find out exactly the best options (ie: not a top-down blanket order to take all 6 hotels for a fixed period), and to tell them that we understood the problems this would cause, that compensation and assistance would be provided, and to give some explanation(s) for why the late notice was totally unavoidable.

I would be a bit more careful how many rooms I take. I still find it hard to believe they need all 6 hotels. Sounds like someone just being extra-safe to have enough rooms (and regardless of the consequences), probably because the basic work on exactly how many rooms, where and when hasn't been done yet.

The whole thing would tie into a pre-existing and much broader communications & PR strategy and plan, already aimed at maximising the good press for Oman and HM that hosting such a major conference offers. Hosting AGCC should be a huge free PR BOOST to the Omani tourism industry, especially in the GCC markets, but also internationally. That takes an effort tho'. (Of course I would have a professional PR/Communications company with demonstrable experience in doing this stuff involved a long time ago.)

I certainly would be doing some urgent action [cash & PR] to correct the current situation of articles like this appearing about HM and the way Oman doesn't seem to care about ruining the holiday plans of hundreds of customers.

I'd be trying to turn the current cock-up into a great story about how some Omanis did fantastically, dealing with a crisis that was caused by forces outside their control, getting people sorted out, organising the event, etc.

In fact, I'd already have planned for a whole host of mini so-called 'human interest' stories on many of the key people involved in executing such a massive event, : the security guys, IT, logistics, chefs, entertainment, Oman Air, the airport, the protocol people, emergency medical staff, local tourist operators who will host some delegates, .... All with nice little stories and pictures so that not just the Times of Oman would print them, but they could go on the wire. The messages in the stories would be tied into a 'red thread' strategic message of Omani friendliness, competence, efficiency, hospitality, trust, & an example of the successful development since the 'blessed renaissance'.

And this is just the PR slant. Actually running an event like this is a HUGE undertaking.

Plan B
But I suspect the real actions going forward will be performed by who-ever thinks they have a good chance to take the hit for the mess-up:
- Try and ignore it. If no-one reads about it or talks about it, there is no problem. Certainly ensure there is nothing reoported in the local press. If ignoring it doesn't work, try and hush it all up.
- Ensure that lots of stories go out about how politically important the conference is for Oman, how everyone is looking forward to it, how fantastic everything is going.
- Stress how plenty of notice was given to the hotels, and that very few people are affected. Point out how many other hotels there are, and that keeping a few people from the west happy, people who selfishly wanted to celebrate Christmas by threatening the most imprtant conference on the ME agenda, people who don't understand how important this is to Omanis and the region, is immaterial. State that these whining expats with their fancy spoilt tourist tastes are the unfortunate few who are totally non-representative of the many who are very happy to go somewhere else, or to reschedule for a later time, and that anyhow its all the responsibility of the Hotel management, because as previously pointed out the Government gave them loads of warning.
- See how much I can lay at the feet of external forces beyond my control.
- Attack the Telegraph story and any other negative reports as being insulting, totally incorrect and simply infamatory. (for a good example of how to use attack as a form of defense when faced with a bad story, see the well organised Government response to the recently critical US State Dept report). Imply that we are seeking to take legal action to protect our reputation from such unfair attacks. Hopefully I can even figure out a way to tie ownership of the Telegraph to the Israelis. Worst case I could just get someone else to imply the Israelis are behind it.
- Stress contantly how the very best efforts have been made by everyone in the Government to host such a complicated and important conference. Efforts that simply could not have been better, because they were perfect.
- Have some stories on how great the Al Bustan Palace Hotel is looking, and how valiantly the impact of the devastating unsual weather was overcome.
- Ensure my immediate superiors are reported as having done an outstanding job.
- ...

You get the idea.
You can also see how useful Essa would be in implementing either plan...

Does that answer your question?


  1. I assume that all the hotel rooms (Barr Al Jissah, Intercons, Hyatt)have been commandeered for the conference (beyond the Al Bustan) either because 1) There is NO certainty the Al Bustan will be ready by December 2008 (after 2 years + of rennovation time???) or 2) Various of the GCC member delegations don't get on with various of the other delegations -- i.e. perhaps the Qatari delegation would prefer NOT to occupy the same hotel as, for example, the Saudis. Thus ya haf ta have numbers of hotels at yr disposal to accommodate these delegations.

    Among all its ministries, I gather that the Sultanate of Oman has no Minister of Public Relations?

  2. 42n82bhere
    I doubt it - they got along fine at the Al Bustan last time. And the AB is already finished (except the spa).

    And yes, we have the Ministry of Information. George Orwell would have appreciated their title...

  3. Why are you people complaining !!!! by christmas your economy will be worth tiolet paper and no one will be able to afford " that christmas vacation in magical middle/far east " except for few very rich people.
    So unless your are very rich this is of no concern for you.

  4. To the anon-tard.

    Oman actually targets the higher end of the tourism market, so actually, it'd be those rich people who are going to go elsewhere, if they can get a reservation somewhere.

  5. Anon...
    The Omani economy is running white hot. A teeny tiny cool off would be great. But not a huge threat if oil stays >60.

    But I agree the UK/US economies are probably in recession for many years. So tourists are maybe not that great. But thats a real prob for Dubai, here its only 2% of GDP, there are few too few hotels anyhow, and as AL says, Oman is not (yet) bucket shop. And the tourists can fly to the UAE for free because the planes are brand new and run on cheap fuel.

    And pick a nickname

  6. I think the bottom line (ignoring ignorance like that of Anon-tard) is that the immediate effects of this mess are not all that dramatic and it is easy to downplay any sympathy for the "rich" Europeans who have to eat the cost of their airline tickets, etc... Yet, the second- and third-order effects are what must be thought of. The Gulf city-states are currently in the beginnings of a huge branding competition, and there are surely to be more losers than winners in the long run. Stories like this hurt the Gulf brand name in general because, in combination with other events in the region, people do not feel completely confident that agreements and contracts will be honored. This hurts tourism, yes, but it hurts confidence in business deals and investment more broadly. Second, in the competition between Gulf cities, this story hurts Oman, which has a more subtle, but often a more attractive brand than the all-out commercialism of Dubai. Some of the shine has come off Dubai's development and investment model recently (for instance Nakheel has stopped work on their Palm project due to the current economic situation). Oman could really do well for itself in these times by promoting itself as a more moderate development climate than Dubai, with more authentic cultural and environmental attractions both for tourism and business. Negative stories like this one, however, do little to convince people that Oman is a better option than Dubai, leading many to look away from the Gulf as a whole.

  7. The guys are right - forget about those complaining westerners - they don't deserve any better.
    Instead, imagine you are at the last day of last year's GCC meeting. "We propose Oman, 24-25 November!".
    Inner thoughts hit you - Oman, roads same as 25 years ago, airport same as 25 years ago, Al Bustan hotel same as 25 years ago. But surely the GCC is always in December??
    "Don't worry" says the Oman delegation, "we've checked the diaries, and 24-25 November is perfect. We've been upgrading the Al Bustan, and we've still got a whole year to finish everything off. We're not going to make the same mistake as those guys with their new corniche and Emirates Palace hotel"
    Back home, being a busy ruler, you start planning next year's diary. Lots of state visits, meeting the people, etc, and it all gets planned around the GCC conference. You also decide to cancel all leave the month before the GCC, and in appreciation of all their future hard work, announce the staff can have a few weeks off after the conference. Everyone plans their holidays for December....
    Five weeks before the GCC is scheduled, you get a message - "sorry, it's delayed by a month". the phrase -something about morning...Starbucks.... springs to mind.

    Yes, let's forget about those westerners who have had their holidays ruined. Instead, think about all those senior officials, royalty, ministers, staff, etc, from other countries who have had the last two months of this year completely messed up.

  8. Anon
    If you're so smart please demonstrate it first by picking a nickname to post under!

    First comes smart, logical eloquence later svp

    But v. good point - there may be some real deals on holidays in the south of France and Cannes between Xmas and New Year... St Tropez anyone?


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...