Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The Musandam Experience"

Gary Arndt has been traveling the world for the past two years. He has been in over 50 countries so far. Last week he was here in Oman. I have been following his travels in the UAE and Oman on his blog and on Twitter. While in Muscat last week, Gary heard about the Musandam ferry and decided to take it. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get any information on it. This is what he wrote on his blog:

Having read numerous articles about the ferry to Musandam I figured it would be as easy as taking a bus or a plane. All I needed to do was find out the schedule, get in a taxi and go to the ferry terminal at the right time.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

It seems that everyone I’ve talked to in Oman has heard of the ferry, but no one actually knows anything about it. I’ve spoken to five travel agents near my hotel. None of them offer ferry tickets nor know where to go to get tickets. No one in my hotel knows anything. None of the cab drivers know anything or where to take me to get a ticket. There is no website for the ferry company. All the searches you do bring up articles about the ferry, but no actual information on how to get tickets nor can I find links to a website from the articles. I have been told by one taxi driver you get tickets in Ruwi, but he didn’t know where that was. One Omani told me that they are only for government officials (which I have no idea if that is true).

This huge investment the government made in high speed, world class ferries is pretty much useless as no one knows how to take it, even if they wanted to.
In the end he managed to get to the ferry with the help of blogger, Arun Rajagopal, who tweeted the information to him on Twitter (isn't social media great?).

Gary later posted a damning review of the whole situation on his blog in which he calls the Musandam ferry: "perhaps the worst run business I have ever witnessed in my life". He goes on to detail why as follows:

Why is this a horrible business?

  1. The car ferry has never transported a car. In the excitement to have the world’s fastest ferry, they never built a ferry terminal to support loading cars onto the boat. It only carries passengers right now. I have seen no activity towards building an actual terminal for cars.
  2. The flight to Khasab is 55 minutes versus 5 hours for the ferry. The cost is the same. An airplane can carry as many vehicles as the ferry right now: zero. You have to show up at the ticket office two hours before the ferry leaves to get on a bus to take you to the ferry.
  3. The operating costs of the ferry are enormous. It burns 18,000 liters of fuel each trip. Even though Oman is an oil producer, with subsidized fuel it is almost impossible to break even with a full boat. There were about 10 crew on board the ship that I could tell and there would probably be more if they had to load cars. The snack bar was open and everything was free. There were about 20 passengers on the boat when I took it.
  4. There is no website where you can buy tickets. There are no agents which you can buy tickets from. I’ve seen no marketing material of any sort except for a very nice full color brochure you get after you buy a ticket. There has been no advertising and no one in Muscat seems to know anything about the ferry other than it exists and it is the best in the world.
  5. Musandam, the destination for the ferries, has a total population of 30,000 people and three hotels. They probably couldn’t support a full boat of people if they had one.
  6. The ferries were not designed for long haul routes. They were designed for trips no greater than an hour. The engines are being used far more than they were designed for with 5 hour trips. As a result, mechanical problems and issues with spare parts will start creeping up over the next few months.

He ends his rant with: "The ferry is sort of a microcosm of what you see in much of Oman: pretty cool looking, but sort of dysfunctional once you look behind the scenes." [link]

Ouch!

It's been six months since the ferry was launched, what excuse does the National Ferr Company have for still not having set up a website for its service? You'd think that with their ferries going close to empty most of the time they'd actually do everything they can to let the whole world know about them. This is definitely not the kind of comments the Ministry of National Economy was hoping for when they launched this service, but then again who can they blame but themselves for the continuing bad publicity that this service keeps getting.

You can read all Gary's posts about Oman by clicking here.

Related post: Ferry to Khasab

Monday, January 26, 2009

Brand Oman


Last night Oman finally launched the country's official branding in a grand event which you can read about on Sangeetha's blog. Discussion immediately followed in the comments on her blog as well as on follow up posts on Blue-Chi, Arun and Kishor's blogs. The branding was done by Landor, who were originally contracted by the government for this exercise back in November 2004. I am not sure what caused the four year delay, if anyone out there knows I would love to know.

Decyphering the logo:
  • The symbol incorporates the name Oman, calligraphically rendered in Arabic

  • The extreme right arc symbolises the 'ship' befitting maritime glory of Oman

  • The center arc denotes the silhouette of the majestic 'mountains' of Oman

  • The bottom arc depicts the rich 'marine environment' of Oman

  • The left extreme curly arc represents the smoke of Omani 'frankincense'
My view (as previously posted as a comment on Arun's blog and later amended on Sangeetha's):

Something in the logo just isn’t right. It’s off somehow, but I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly about it that’s off. 1) It is a weirdly non-symmetrical pattern. 2) It leads your eye to its left. Even when told that it is Arabic caligraphy, my eye still went from left to right. It flows that way. 3) It looks more like sanskrit than Arabic to me. 4) If I wasn't told it was Arabic writing, I would have assumed it was just a drawn logo that didn't make sense. In a word, gibberish. 5) Why in the world does a logo need to be explained(I mean come on, who has the time)? 6) Most importantly, the colors are cold. There’s no warmth in them. Uninviting, that's the word that comes to mind. These are colors for a corporate logo, not a country.

I find it strange that Oman's national symbol, the khanjar, has been removed from Oman Air and hasn't been used in the country's own branding. Someone apparently in the know has commented on Sangeetha's blog that the government is conciously distancing away from the khanjar as a national symbol because it is a weapon since we are living in a "sensitive" world. If I was involved in the branding exercise, I wouldn’t have agreed with the thought process which analyzes the khanjar as a weapon. Most countries only dream of having as strong a national symbol as the Omani khanjar. I refuse to believe that they couldn’t think of variations on the theme. They could have tried to redraw the khanjar, or use it as an inspiration for a new logo. Oman Air went for an extremely generic logo which is apparently based on smoke from burning of incense. Smoke, on a plane?!!!! And now brand Oman is Arabic calygraphy?

Another thing, I would have marketed Oman simply as Oman, not Sultanate of Oman.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How do you like them BlackBerries?

Corporations have been showering Oman's Gulf Cup winning team with hundreds of thousands of rials in cash and cars. So what does Omantel, the country's biggest and most profitable listed company award the team? Free BlackBerry devices with one year free service.

Classic Omantel.


Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Oman Mobile!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where to begin?

I love Amazon.co.uk's January sales. I always go a bit overboard with DVD orders in the after xmas sales, and this year was no exception. With this present economy, Amazon.co.uk started the January Sale well before xmas. This pic shows the contents of two out of the three packages I received yesterday. Almost all them were bought at 40 to 70% off and with the British Pound down from about $2 to $1.5, Amazon UK is now a better place to buy DVDs than Amazon.com. The cost of postage is negligble after VAT is deducted, as compared to Amazon USA where the shipping cost is too restrictive and Aramex Shop and Ship is now ridiculously expensive. I choose Air Post, the packages were dispatched on January 11th and collected here on the 17th.

Now which one to watch first?


Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Oman Mobile!

Oman wins Gulf Cup. Holiday for all*

Oman won the gulf cup and the Sultan ordered a national holiday. What a day!

To the young people out there and the expats who have only been in Oman a few years it might seam ridiculous to get a national holiday for winning a football tournament, but you have to go back and look at Oman's football beginnings back in the 70's. We were the team that always ends in last place. Other countries used to go into the Gulf Cup with the "at least we'll beat Oman" attitude. We used to get creamed as much as 8 - 0. Until Gulf Cup 17 in 2004 Oman hadn't even achieved a podium finish. We reached the final in 2004 and proved in 2007 that it wasn't a fluke by doing it again. Oman started Gulf Cup 19 as the favorites. This is no small thing.

We won. It's a new era for Omani football. I hope the government is generous in its rewards for our boys.

* holiday for everyone in Oman except apparently my wife whose workplace isn't part of either the public or private sector.


Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Oman Mobile!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Temp this morning

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Oman Mobile!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Be Your Own Detective

So this morning I was up on my house's rooftop while a handyman was finally putting a clothes line. Yep, 11 months after moving into the house we finally have a sturdy line to dry our clothes on. Anyway, I was looking at all the construction around my house. We're practically living in a construction zone. There are more than 15 houses being built within less than 200 meters walking distance from my house. The empty plot right next to my house is a dump. There are three houses being built in the line behind my house and all of them are dumping their crap in this empty plot. By law they will have to remove all the crap when they finish building or the municipality won't give the site completion certificate, but until that time I have to suffer. So today, my "all around the house" guy U (I refuse to call him a "house boy", I hate that phrase, and one day sooner or later he'll pass his driving exam and become a driver), told me that the construction workers in the house exactly diagonally behind us, sit up late at night singing and clapping and he can't sleep well because of him. Then he shocked me by telling me that they drink all night. I asked where they get the alcohol and got a bigger shock when he told me that there's a car that comes to the neighborhood every day and sells booze to all the construction sites.

As soon as the handyman finished his work, I got into my car and went to Bausher police station to complain. The policeman just looked at me and said he needs more information before he can do anything. Like what, I asked. He said I should give him, at the very least, details on the car that sells the alcohol. It's make and model and car number. I said, isn't this your part. I give you the complaint and then you as police investigate? Apparently not. I guess, I'm gonna have to set up my own stakeout and find all the details for them. Once I have the car number, they will trace its owners and do their part.

Whatever.

Oman's official football kit

All the original Oman football team shirts being sold in the market are by Lotto, and Lotto's agent in Oman, Muscat Sports, says that Lotto is the official sponsor of the Omani team. But in the Gulf Cup this time the team is actually wearing Adidas. However if you go to any Adidas shop they don't have the official kit and they aren't even aware that the team is wearing Adidas.

What gives? Was Adidas' sponsorship a last minute thing?

Friday, January 09, 2009

"Layoff reports baseless"

From the front page of yesterday's Oman Tribune.
An official source at the Ministry of Manpower on Wednesday denied the validity of recent reports that some companies operating in the Sultanate have laid off their employees as a fallout of the global financial crisis.

The ministry has not received anything in this regard from the companies. A company cannot lay off any worker without informing the ministry in advance and an employee cannot be dismissed before the ministry finds an alternative job for him, the source said.

The source pointed out that the demand for skilled labour in the private sector is increasing. There is a large number of unskilled workforce in the 18-20 age group in the Sultanate. The layoffs may happen in the event of a sudden cessation of projects or bankruptcy of companies; but nothing of the sort has happened so far in the Sultanate.

Talking to Oman Tribune, official sources of some companies have also denied the validity of the reports about layoffs. No company has so far declared its decision or intention to lay off their employees.

The sources also said due to the wise policy initiatives and preventive measures, the economy of the Sultanate remains robust and is immune to the impact of global financial crisis.
Obviously the ministry source is talking about Omanis and the article doesn't mention anywhere whether any expatriates have been laid off.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

No To Plastic Bags

Jan 8th is Oman Environment Day. The Envrionment Society of Oman (ESO) is launching a 6 month anti plastic bag campaign.

I am at Safeer Hypermarket in Athaiba handing out reusable shopping bags, talking to shoppers and filling questionnaires.


Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Oman Mobile!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gulf Cup Tickets


We wanted to go to the opening game of the Gulf Cup. The tickets are exclusively sold at Omanoil petrol stations, but the stations aren't linked in any way to a central office so there was no way to know which station still had tickets. Every Omanoil station we went to was sold out. The news was that the tickets sold out. When we saw it on TV there were large sections of the stadium that were empty. What gives? Even Ali Al Habsi was complaining about it in his interview after the match.

Anyhow, tickets to each game are put on sale at 10am the day before, so we were planning to go split up and go to different stations early this morning to guarantee getting tickets for tomorrow's Oman game. But then suddenly this morning I got a phone call that they are canceling all ticket sales and now all the games are going to be free. I just checked on the Gulf Cup 19 website and it's true:
The organizing committee for the 19th Gulf Cup tournament has decided that starting today, all matches will be free. All the fans will be able to attend their team's matches and support them without paying, but they will have to abide by the regulations set for this policy. It will be a first-come first-served strategy as the stadium gates will be opened at 3:30 every day and closed at 5:00. [link]
It's going to be pandemonium. My son has been asking me every day if we're going to go see the game in the stadium. But now that the tickets are first come basis, immediately before the match, my wife is having second thoughts about it and says it's better to watch from home. To get tickets we're going to have to go from 3.30 and stay in the stadium till the game starts at 6pm. That's too long a wait for a three and a half year old kid. If we go late we might not get tickets and we'd end up stuck in the traffic to get home. And worst case, what if there's no tickets available and the crowd gets out of control?

I guess I'm gonna have to try some wasta to get VIP tickets.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Let It Rust : خلوها تصدي


There's a backlash building up across the GCC against car dealerships. At its center is a campaign with the slogan "Let it Rust" which calls for people to boycott all car dealers until they reduce their prices. The campaign has been spreading through emails and mostly on Arabic online discussion forums such as Mqataa.com, Gulf4Cars and even Sablat Oman. The emails have mostly been pictures of huge yards full of unsold cars mostly in the US, though more recent emails have included pictures from dealers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

I think local auto dealers have more or less brought this on themselves. They use any excuse to increase prices. Any increase in the Euro or the Yen is immediately followed by increases in car prices, but when the situation reverses as it has now especially with the Euro the dealers come up with all sorts of excuses to keep the prices high. When I inquired why BMW hasn't reduced their price even though the Euro was down close to 20%, I was given the excuse that the drop was unexpected and that they have already booked Euros at the higher price for all their purchases till next year. Auto dealers in the gulf treat customers as if they are stupid. As if they have no access to information and prices except what they give them. The campaign has focused on this aspect, especially that auto dealers in the gulf are all monopolies. The emails have been showing the US list prices of some cars and comparing them with their prices here. Even without the crises, car prices were higher here in the gulf. Now with the US and Europe bracing for severe recessions, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cars are lying in inventories unsold. In the US, General Motors is giving a rebate of $8000 on every GMC Yukon sold. Here in Oman the price of the Yukon actually went up last month. The US big three auto manufacturers are on the brink of bankruptcy, and even the mighty Toyota about to announce their first lost in 70 years. The GCC is a tiny market for automobile manufacturers, but already rumors are swirming that even in Oman, Bahwan Toyota has already laid off 300 expatriate workers.

Car import volumes are still unaffected. A source in the shipping industry told me that the port here has inquired with all the local dealers to know if their volumes will be lower in 2009, all confirmed that orders will remain at least at 2008 levels.

I am not sure if a campaign like Let It Rust can have an effect, but auto dealers are definitely feeling the heat.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Barefoot in 2009

Happy new year, everyone.

Today was the first working day of 2009. All the talk in the office this morning was about what a bad year this might turn out to be. People were joking about ordering 200 baisa sandwiches from the cafeteria instead of the 2 rial sandwiches from Costa Coffee two buildings down. It was all light hearted, but there's no doubt that there's a lot of fear in people. 2009 is definitely not looking to be an easy year. Oman's budget has a 2 billion dollar deficit, and that's an optimistic estimate based on oil priced at $45 a barrel.

Around 9am, ColOman called me to ask if I'd go along with him to an 3aza in Muttrah for the death of his friend's sister who died of cancer a the very young age of 27. I don't personally know the family but the news of her death yesterday had really gotten to me when I heard the news, so I went with him. We gave our condolences and sat in the 3aza for about fifteen minutes before we got up to leave. When we reached the door I couldn't find my na3al (sandals). I suppose someone might have mistakenly worn them and left because there was another pair close by of the same brand, almost the same design, but a smaller size. Then again, I wear size 45 and very few Omanis wear my size. It's not likely for someone to wear them and not notice the size difference. I ended up walking out barefoot. Good thing, I had my car keys with me or else I'd have had to go back to my office barefoot as well to get them. I had ColOman drop me by my car at work and I drove barefoot home to get another pair to wear. What was supposed to be a quick half an hour outside the office ended up being about two hours.