Luxury and hospitality in the Arab world / exit Oman
Day 1,787 since October 10th 2013: 154 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Perception is reality
I think less than a handful people have a good idea about what I’m doing with the Saga. Assumptions are plentiful and perception is definitely reality. The Saga is pure. Media across more than 100 countries and none of it is negative. 40,000 online followers worldwide and lots of support. You think you can do what I do? Do it ;)
In the latest entry I wrote about a week with my fiancée as she came to visit me in Oman. She’s truly an amazing woman. I left the airport after I saw her disappear through the security clearance. There is no point at lingering around the airport beyond that. From the airport I made my way to the Kempinski Hotel Muscat without really knowing what it was. The deeper I wandered into the rabbit hole the more amazed I got!
The foyer is inspired by water lili's as seen from below as well as by the Al Alam Palace in Muttrah, Oman.
The Kempinski Hotel Muscat is “the new kid on the block”. It is the newest five star hotel in Muscat and it shows. It is a top modern state of the art hotel with a prime location and a wide selection of entertainment and amenities. But anyone with enough money can build a spectacular hotel – right? The Kempinski is far more than that! The moment I walked into the foyer I had to pause for a moment and take in the view! This was something different! For a moment I forgot about checking in. “Mr. Pedersen I presume” a man said with a smile. A woman brought me a fresh cold towel and a welcome drink. Now that is how you should enter a hotel!! The man who already knew my name was Assistant Front Office Manager Mohamed Al Sabagh. A very kind a very competent man. Then I was approached by another man and a woman. That was the first time I met Lina Abu Ayash, Personal Assistant to the GM + PR & Marketing Executive, as well as Gerard Saliba who is the PR Manager.
I love the simplicity of this smarthome device in my room. Easy!
It's the little things! How amazing is this coffee and tea arrangement in my room!
This photo is from Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, mid July 2018. That was when Oman became country no 150 and I first met Jessi, Haya and Firas! :)
I was then brought to my room which underlined the well know luxury which is synonymous with the Kempinski brand. I didn’t know much of anything about Kempinski at that point. I just knew that Jessi (from Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar) had sent an email to Carsten Wiegandt, General Manager of Kempinski Hotel Muscat, suggesting that they would host me for my last few days in Oman. Then I saw an email from Carsten accepting me as a guests. So it was really all very easy for me. Luxury is nice but in all honesty I was missing my fiancée. She would really have enjoyed it! And only hours before I had parted with her at the Muscat International Airport. Alas, time flies – I don’t. I will see her again soon enough. I had an overdue blog to write and lots of work which had built up during my week with her. So I logged on to Kempinski’s wifi and began working. Then I got a call from the reception with a request for me to join Lina for dinner. I accepted and continued working.
A few coments from facebook ;)
Kempinski Hotels is Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group and dates back to 1897. It has a rich heritage of personal service and hospitality is complemented by its good reputation which is known worldwide. Kempinski now manages 74 five-star hotels and residences in 32 countries and continues to add new properties in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Over the years they have been buying historic landmark properties, hotels, resorts and prestigious residences and incorporating them into the Kempinski brand of luxury. If a residence falls short then it loses the right to bear the Kempinski name. Kempinski is also a founding member of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands, and an alliance which Anantara is also a part of. In fact Kempinski sees Anatara as an ally and not as competition. I had the pleasure of guesting Anantara in Al Jabal Al Akhdar (the green mountains) about a month and a half ago. It’s actually a common combination for visitors to fly into Muscat and check in at Kempinski for a few days to enjoy the pristine coastline and the local history for a few days. Then they head up into the mountains for a different experience and enjoy the cool temperatures and spectacular views. I guess I got that backwards but in my defense I didn’t fly :)
That is Khadija in the middle and Fares on the left ;)
Just before 8pm I headed down to the Zale Beach Club and Lounge to meet with Lina. Kempinski Hotel Muscat actually has ten bars and restaurants of which nine serve food. And the majority are open to the public. At Zale I was shown to a casual arrangement where I met Carsten for the first time. He was sitting with Lars who is the General Manager at Kempinski Hotel Sama Bay in Egypt. I was immediately welcomed to join the two gentlemen who had been friends for many years. The two are both Germans and used to work together in China, of which they both spoke very fondly of. Lina and Gerard soon joined us and the four of us had a spectacular meal. I even got to meet the chefs Khadija Al Riyami and Fares Al Balushi. After our meal I still had three more hours of work before I could go to bed. And unfortunately that night a cold began to build up! Having a cold is completely useless!! Nobody really expects you to slow down and yet everything becomes a lot more difficult. Well, at least I was sleeping at a luxury hotel and that certainly helps ;)
It is all in the details! :)
The next day I got up to have my breakfast and the fresh orange juice certainly helped on my sore throat. One of the ten bars and restaurants is called “The Kitchen” and it is just brilliant. It feels like walking through a marketplace while you casually pick what you want to eat. The hotel aims to offer a combination of local traditions inspired by Omani hospitality and world-class luxury. Much of Kempinski Hotel Muscat’s architecture is directly inspired by the local community. Something I remember hearing was that: “Kempinski Hotel Muscat provides a blend of local traditions and world-class European luxury”. I think that is a very accurate statement and that it hits the nail on the head. I followed up my breakfast with a run at the luxury fitness center and although I’m no great fan of running on treadmills it helps a lot when everything is so damn nice! ;) No matter what you look at it is clearly the best: speakers, equipment, materials, artwork…the Kempinski is definitely a nice hotel!
Fahad Al Abri wanted to meet me and do a handstand together. We agreed to meet at Kempinski. Fahad is a passionate humanitarian who does handstands in front of interesting locations. I don't think he has a website yet but find him on facebook as "handstand every city" or on Instagram @cavemangram. He's a good guy! And THANK YOU Gerard for not dropping me!! I couldn't have done it without some support from Kempinski's Public Relation Manager :)
I had lunch with Lina and Gerard who are really amazing people. We got to talk a lot about the Saga, a lot about work, a lot about Kempinski, a lot about life and generally we just had a really good time. There are 38 different nationalities among the staff and since I’ve now been to 75% of the world’s countries there is a fairly good chance I have been to yours too. That makes a multinational staff really interesting! Because almost no matter who I speak to I can relate to where they come from. I observe countries through my accumulated experience and compare them to all which I have seen. It gives a unique outlook on life. And while I always aim to promote every country as if it were the best I also get to meet with the Red Cross or the Red Crescent in most cases. The humanitarian angle is one which shows me the hardship of a country which again gives me a fuller picture. As an example I met a woman from Zimbabwe which is a gorgeous and rich country in culture and heritage. Something very unique from Zimbabwe is Great Zimbabwe which was a prosperous empire which spectacular ruins can still be seen today. However I also know that the country is going through hard times and that ordinary people must line up in front of banks in hope of withdrawing any money from their accounts. Many are not receiving their salaries and the US dollar has long ago replaced the local currency in order to stabilize the economy. Zimbabwe also has amazing Safari and naturally it also shares the spectacular Victoria Falls. So that serves for a bit of background information for a short conversation.
After my run I hit the steam bath and then the sauna - and yes: also the bucket!
That's Chandra Shah from Kenya! 3rd generation Kenyan. Speaks Swahili and all. Great guy!
My cold just got worse. Having a cold is really, really useless! I tried to drink a lot of water, eat well and balance all the emails, social media and planning which is quite demanding these days. That night I was offered to have dinner wherever I wanted. I picked The Kitchen again. It’s quite a place and not so much a buffet as it is a live interactive cuisine. There are three “live stations” each with their area of cooking: European live station, Levantine live station and the Omani seafood live station. So that covers all sorts of meat, fish, vegetables, pasta and you name it. Then you also have your: salad bar, homemade bread and desserts! The desserts are made by a chef from one of the world’s most distinguished schools and while I’m not really into sugar that was just exceptionally good! Chandra Shah is the assistant outlet manager and we had a talk about all of this. He’s a really great and highly competent guy. In fact the staff at Kempinski Hotel Muscat is really an incredible team and I enjoyed interacting with them.
The day after that my cold was still with me! Useless!! A solid breakfast helped me a lot and so did the fresh orange juice. I wanted to board an overnight bus that night from Muscat to Salalah (1,000 km / 620 mi) and it was no problem staying around for a late checkout. I made it back on the treadmill which had an interactive screen attached in which you could see your movement through a pre-filmed landscape. The day before I did the “Tibet” screen which was a mistake as it also interacted with the incline and I’m certainly not ready for running in the Himalaya! So I opted for yet another run in Wellington like I had done it at Anantara the month before. I know Wellington (New Zealand) pretty well now. Bring it on! :)
Filmed at Anantara and featured while at Kempinski! Amazing! Watch the interview HERE! It switches to English after about a minute. Haya did an amazing job!! :)
This happened to be the day of which the MBC1 interview featured! That’s a big deal! MBC is to the Arab world what BBC or CNN is to the Western world. It’s a huge network and it reaches some 130 million viewers. I find it interesting how the Danish media appears to have abandoned the Saga while within a month Once Upon A Saga has been featured in both AL Jazeera (Qatar) and MBC (Saudi Arabia(HQ in Dubai, UAE)). And that alone sort of contradicts itself as Saudi Arabia and Qatar aren’t exactly best friends these days but Al Jazeera also reaches about 130 million viewers. 130 million people is by the way roughly 23 times as many people as there are Danes in Denmark. It makes you wonder…
The Kempinski has a bowling center, a daycare, a ball room, conference rooms, a tea house, a shisha lounge and the list goes on! It's an amazing hotel.
On my last day at the Kempinski I had lunch with Lina and Gerard again. Carsten joined in and they asked me what I liked about the hotel? I replied that it is a beautiful hotel but for me the real value is found in its amazing staff. Carsten, whom I liked from the first night I met him, said: “It’s the software…” That led to a conversation in which we agreed that anyone with enough resources can have the most spectacular palace of a hotel built (hardware). But having the world’s best staff (software) is all about attracting the right people, training them well and giving them a good work environment. The Kempinski Hotel Muscat has an amazing staff and I have thoroughly enjoyed interacting with all of them. Lina insisted on arranging for my bus ticket and one of the fanciest cars I’ve even been inside drove me to the bus terminal where I boarded the bus and left for Salalah.
And then I went from the worlds best five star luxury and back to this :)
Anantara also has a luxury resort in Salalah and Jessi connected me with Victoria who invited me to have a complimentary day pass. That was just perfect because after an overnight bus journey (with a cold) I needed to sleep a bit more. And I got to do that on a beach chair as the bus rolled into Salalah a bit after 06:00am. Then I had lunch and got on the Anantara treadmill hoping to burn out the cold. I had a shower and got to work on this entry for all of you. So in writing moment I don’t know what will happen next but I assume that Maersk’s agent will take good care of me, that I will clear customs and immigration and that I will board the good ship “Gjertrud Mearsk” after she berths at 10pm tonight (Friday). Then I will be onboard for 5-6 days until we reach Port Said in Egypt. “Gjertrud Maersk” will take us past Yemen and into the Red Sea. Then we will continue through the Suez Canal which has always been a dream of mine!! I come from a background of shipping and logistics and seeing the Canal first hand will be something special. I really enjoyed seeing the Panama Canal many years ago. Yes! That’s the kind of nerd I am ;)
Pretty tired when I reached Salalah. My head felt like it would explode.
I want to thank so many people! I definitely want to thank Juanita and Iain in Dubai! The entire Kempinski team as well as the Anantara teams in Oman. I’m so grateful to so many people in Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen and the UAE. Lama in Saudi Arabia has a special place in my heart. I miss Ali in Baghdad (Iraq), I still think about the incredible volunteers I met in Damascus (Syria), Jordan became a second home to me and Lebanon almost became a regular home (102 days)! Bahrain gave me so much in such a short amount of time and Iran remained fabulous since I first visited in 2010. If there is one thing that is true for all these countries then it is how rich they are in hospitality and genuine kindness. How the media paints these countries is beyond me and cruel. If I came from any of these twelve countries I just mentioned then I would be insanely proud! Rich in culture, history, humor, cuisine and last but not least: unbelievable people. And that is all for now. Ship ahoy!
The view from Anantara Al Baleed Resort in Salalah. And the waves I'm heading out into. Hurrah for Monsoon season.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - nearly done with the Middle East!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga