Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Raymond DesmetOMAN: ONCE SEEN, NEVER FORGOTTEN

 

By Raymond Desmet, Director – Partner @dmire & President Initiative

 

I read so many good things lately on Oman that I started wondering if this good news show really reflected reality or if it was part of an ingenious set up dreamed up by the local representatives to put this destination in the picture. So when Birgit Defoort from Glenaki PR and Karin de Graauw from BBT Online invited me to join a fam trip to Oman, I didn’t hesitate for one second; what a wonderful occasion this was to find out about some of the highlights of this Arabian country.

 

oman oman oman
oman oman

 

For those of you who know as little as I did before this trip: The country is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and by the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The inhabitants of the area of Oman have long prospered on Indian Ocean trade. In 1970, Qaboos Bin Said al-Said established an extensive modernization programme, which opened up the country to the outside world.

Oman is a middle-income economy that is heavily dependent on dwindling oil resources. The Sultan, very aware of the risks of such dependence, is actively pursuing a development plan that focuses on diversification, industrialization, and privatization, with the objective of reducing the oil sector's contribution.

In contrast to the rest of the region, and this came as a complete surprise, it is refreshing to find locals – often of both sexes – working in all sections of society. No skyscrapers to be found over here; Oman absolutely wants to preserve nature in all its aspects and therefore seeks the perfect mix between the necessary development and a minimum of distortion of its historical and natural riches. Authenticity and safety are key words in Oman.

Were also on this trip: Anja De Haen – BCD Travel, Dorien Driesen – Uniglobe Incentive & Travel Group, Hugo Slimbrouck – Ovation Global, Jan van den Broeck – AIMS International,  Jeroen Cauwelier – De Buck Incentives and Koen van den Bosch – Thomas Cook.

 

Oman Oman
Oman Oman
Oman Oman

 

The EY58 (Etihad) took us on a direct flight to Abu Dhabi. The Airbus, in a 2-4-2 configuration offers good comfort in economy class. Just under 2 hours after arriving we departed on another Etihad flight (3-3 configuration) of +/- 45 min to Muscat, the capital city of Oman. The first thing to do when you arrive is to buy a visa. Make sure not to lose your luggage tag as you have to show it, together with your passport and visa to the immigration officer. Gulf Dunes, the DMC who had worked out the programme, displayed a high level of professionalism. First impression? Only smiling faces all around: Welcome to my country Sir. Oman, you had me hooked right from the start….

A short drive on well-surfaced roads got us to the Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa. This resort is made up of 3 hotels; the Al Waha (meaning Oasis) is a 4* hotel mainly for families with children who will love to stay here thanks to the special menus and play corners. The Al Bandar (meaning city) is a 5* hotel that successfully combines business with pleasure. You will find businessmen here sitting alongside people enjoying a well-deserved holiday. Last but not least there’s the Al Husn, which is a very luxurious 6* hotel. We spent one night in the Al Bandar, and another night in the Al Husn. What a shame, in both cases, that nights tend to be so short…

 

Oman oman Oman

 

During our stay we had the opportunity to visit other hotels as well, eg The Al Bustan Palace (IC hotel) and the Hyatt hotel. Memorable parts of the first of these were its impressive entrance hall, it’s coastal setting, an enormous garden and a crème de la crème seafood restaurant where fish is fresh daily and even flown in daily from different parts of the world. Pricey? Not really. You have to try it out!

The second one was situated in the so-called diplomatic quarter. Correct service and a large swimming pool surrounded by a small garden make life very comfortable here as well, although it should be said that the hotel urgently needs a face-lift. The floors, walls and furniture all bear witness the high occupancy rates the hotel has enjoyed in the past few years.
Our overall impression of the hotels was excellent. You can find them in various categories and styles. Important to know, for us Western Europeans, is that alcohol is served in all hotels.

 

Oman Oman
Oman Oman

 

It is clear that during this fam trip we tried to maximize the number of impressions to take home with us. That’s why on Day 2 we left the hotel for an early morning visit to the Grand Mosque. Accompanied by a very open-minded guide, it was a true pleasure to discover this complex (416.000 m²) and to get to know more about local traditions. The second place to discover that day was the Muttrah Souk, one of the liveliest in the Middle East. No obtrusive vendors over here, but good salesmen trying to convince you of the quality of their merchandise. Floors seem to be cleaned perpetually as not one piece of waste could be traced (European cities: come and find out for yourselves). The Souk is divided into 2 main parts: common goods and jewellery. For those of you interested in value for money: Jewellery street is an absolute must.

 

Oman Oman
Oman Oman

 

A short transfer took us from the Souk to the Bait Al Zubair museum. A short visit to this small museum gives you a complete overview of Oman traditions with a display of various types of clothing and weaponry. Don’t forget to pass by the small bookshop adjacent to the exit. From there it took us just 3 hours to get to the desert of Wahibi Sands. Dune Bashing is a lovely experience although as responsible parents used to say ”don’t try this at home“. The well trained drivers turn it into a wonderful piece of good workmanship which ends high up the sandy hills where you can experience either a wonderful sunset or an even more beautiful sunrise over the desert. No need to sleep under the open skies (nights can be refreshing in the desert): the prestigious Desert Nights Camp embraces you like an oasis in the middle of nowhere; time to enjoy its fully air conditioned accommodation, a private bath room and a very comfortable double bed. As I’ve already said, nights tend to be short in Oman. But climbing the sandy hills in almost total darkness to watch an unforgettable sunrise was truly worth the effort it took to get out of bed!

 

Oman Oman
Oman Oman
Oman Oman

 

On the way back to Muscat we went for the ancient road, leading us to Nizwa, the former capital city of Oman, its cattle market and its Fort. From Nizwa we continued on our way to Al Hamra Old Town, a place where time has stood still. Don’t head for the “highway” after this but go for the scenic road, which will lead you all the way up into the mountains. Watch out then, because the best part is still to come. Enjoy the magnificent view of the Grand Canyon of Oman (2200 m High), take a deep breath and let yourself be driven (or is it rattled) by experienced drivers down a single track road into the valley. From here it’s another 156 km to Muscat, so be sure to make a stop at the wonderfully restored Nakhel Fort (17th century).

 

Oman Oman Oman

 

So in 24 Hrs we managed to experience 2 of Oman’s’ major assets: the mountains and the desert. The next day we went for a tryout on the 3rd one: the sea. Believe me, the water is crystal clear and offers a paradise view for snorkelers and divers. The catamaran, privately owned and perfectly commanded by a French captain, which was at our disposal for 4 hours, made it all look and feel even more like heaven on earth.
When in Oman, make sure to see the combination of all three assets and stay for at least 3 to 4 days.

 

oman oman oman

 

Isn’t there a negative thought then? Well maybe there is one: the northern part of the country is often invaded for short term visits by expats from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, not always showing respect for the Omani. They park their Jeeps wherever they want to, without giving much thought to nature or to local customs.
Oman and Omani are very open minded but just like in any other country, you should respect their traditions, be it historical or religious ones. So the least you can do is to behave. If you do so, Oman is a fantastic destination to visit at least once in a lifetime.

Thanks to the people of Gulf Dunes – www.gulfdunes.com and my especial thanks to Birgit (Birgit@glenaki.com) and Karin (karin@bbtonline.eu)  for giving me the opportunity to take a look at what will certainly be one of my future destinations.

More information on Oman, visit the very complete MICE website, www.miceoman.be

 

Oman Oman

 

So, now you know, if you are looking for that winter destination with a difference, Oman is your safe and best bet!

Sun
With an average temperature of around 25°, Oman – 10 times the size of Belgium!- is the perfect alternative to the winter blues.


Travel
  • Oman Air flies 4 times/week from Paris directly to Muscat – 6 hours flying time!
  • Etihad Airways flies 5 times per week from Brussels via Abu-Dhabi.
  • A 3 hour time difference in winter (only 2 in summer!) make it a jetlag free travel zone from Europe.

Infrastructure
  • First class roads make for easy travel to all places of interest.
  • An excellent hotel infrastructure in the capital Muscat as well as in other major cities – presence of major chains such as Shangri-La, InterContinental, Marriott, etc..
  • Hassle-free airport.

Incentive Activities
  • Sea: Dow cruises with BBQ’s on white sandy beaches, dolphin or turtle watching, diving to discover a wonderful undersea world…Oman is country of fisherman, the sea is their element, and its magic color will enchant you!...and you have 1700 km of beaches to choose from ..!
  • Desert: The incredible beauty of the desert can be discovered during a typical ‘dune bashing’ trip and why not try your hand at camel racing?…
  • Culture: With its strategic location as a meeting point for east and west, Oman has for centuries been an important place on the trade routes and has therefore a strong and vibrant cultural past. From the richness of Muscat with its cave of Ali Baba ( ..or the souk if you prefer….shoppers paradise!! ) to the medieval forts in the mountains and the desert. There is so much to discover and with such a rich history!
  • Mountains: The Hajar Mountains, like the deserts are remarkable for their aridity and would provide little toehold for mankind, were it not for the luscious greenery in many of the valleys or ‘wadis’. Here water flows, pink oleanders flower and swaying reeds create an enchanting atmosphere.

 

Hotel Chedi Hotel Chedi
Grand Hyatt Shangri La

 

 

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