COVER STORY

HOW THE BBC TOOK ANANTARA AL JA­BAL AL AKHDAR RE­SORT IN OMAN TO ITS HEART

HotelNews Middle East - - Contents -

It is never a sur­prise when an il­lus­tri­ous ho­tel in the Mid­dle East be­comes the toast of the in­dus­try, but it is not as com­mon when that prop­erty also cap­tures the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion.

But that is ex­actly what hap­pened when Anantara Al Ja­bal Al Akhdar Re­sort in Oman was the sub­ject of a tele­vi­sion pro­gramme in the UK broad­cast by the BBC.

The award-win­ning ho­tel was the only prop­erty from the re­gion se­lected for the sec­ond se­ries of Amaz­ing Ho­tels: Life Be­yond the Lobby.

The episode, which is pre­sented by Giles Coren and Mon­ica Galetti who are both house­hold names in the UK, has won rave re­views and, as gen­eral man­ager Dar­ren Dar­win tells Ho­tel News Mid­dle East, it is al­ready pro­vid­ing the ho­tel with an in­creased level of in­ter­est from all over the world.

“The BBC was look­ing for ho­tels from all over the world that were unique and cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion,” says Dar­win.

“They had spec­i­fied that in this se­ries they would only show­case one ho­tel in the Mid­dle East. I know that over 100 ho­tels from the re­gion ap­plied to be part of the show.”

As you would ex­pect from a broad­caster with the BBC’S rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cel­lence, it was a painstak­ing process be­fore the Anantara Al Ja­bal Al Akhdar Re­sort be­came the envy of the GCC and was cho­sen to be fea­tured on Amaz­ing Ho­tels.

“We went through months of in­ter­views and I per­son­ally must have had at least 15 Skype in­ter­views with the pro­duc­tion team about what we do at the re­sort and why what we have is so spe­cial,” he says.

Af­ter nu­mer­ous con­sul­ta­tions with the BBC team, the re­sort was placed on a fi­nal short­list of six pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions for the smash-hit show.

“Be­ing a beau­ti­ful re­sort is not enough and once they re­alised we had the char­ac­ters and per­son­al­i­ties that could make a con­nec­tion with the au­di­ence they sent out a recce team,” says Dar­win.

“Af­ter the recce team had been here we re­ceived a phone call from the BBC that we had been cho­sen to be on Amaz­ing Ho­tels. The pro­ducer and di­rec­tor ar­rived with a pro­duc­tion team of six peo­ple in Septem­ber of last year and stayed for four or five weeks.”

It is an­other string to the prop­erty’s bow that it is the only in­ter­na­tional brand to fea­ture at all in the se­ries – the BBC fa­mously avoid pro­mot­ing brands where at all pos­si­ble.

“The pro­duc­ers had to go to the BBC top brass and say ‘we’ve got this ho­tel

that we re­ally like and want it on the show’,” says Dar­win.

“The fact that they fought to put us on air shows how highly they thought of us.”

Given that the shoot took place in Q4, tra­di­tion­ally the busiest time of the year for ho­tels across the GCC, the BBC re­ally could not have wished for a more apt time to get a true re­flec­tion of life at the Anantara Al Ja­bal Al Akhdar Re­sort.

“We had al­most a full ho­tel, I would do my checks and then when that was done I would go to the li­brary where the one-onone in­ter­views would take place. I must have had six sit­tings like that,” he says.

“When you first see me with Mon­ica you can tell that was the first thing filmed be­cause of how ner­vous I am.”

It sounds hard to be­lieve that an award­win­ning gen­eral man­ager of such a pres­ti­gious prop­erty would suf­fer nerves, but it is a sign of the es­teem that the show and its pre­sen­ters are held in.

“I did some re­search on both Mon­ica and Giles and re­alise they are both re­ally well-known in the UK,” says Dar­win.

“It was okay for other team mem­bers here who just saw it as two peo­ple talk­ing to them but it was a bit more for me as I knew all my fam­ily mem­bers back home in the UK would be watch­ing. That said, they were great and re­ally made me feel at ease – I was re­ally pleased by how it went.

“We have had the Top Gear team here as well as CNN but noth­ing com­pares to this – it truly is spe­cial.”

The suc­cess of the show has seen a spike in in­ter­est about the prop­erty – which was al­ready en­joy­ing rave re­views and high oc­cu­pancy rates.

“En­quiries about the ho­tel are go­ing through the roof and every­one who has seen the show has said how beau­ti­ful it looks, com­mer­cially we are go­ing to do very well out of it,” says Dar­win.

The ho­tel and sur­round­ing area will not be the only ones to ben­e­fit from the ex­po­sure that be­ing on Amaz­ing Ho­tels pro­vides though.

“It will do very well for Oman, it shows the coun­try in a new light,” he says.

“At the same time, it is very au­then­tic and is very Ara­bic in ways that you are not go­ing to get in the likes of the UAE.”

The show has al­ready made a star out of Dar­win, if his re­cent trip to Thai­land is any­thing to go by.

“I got recog­nised by two peo­ple on a speed­boat go­ing to James Bond is­land,” he says.

“One of them turned round to me and said ‘you’re Dar­ren from Amaz­ing Ho­tels’. It turns out it is one of their favourite shows and they had watched it in Thai­land on the Wed­nes­day and saw me on the boat on the Thurs­day.”

The suc­cess of the show does put the al­ready in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned ho­tel un­der added scru­tiny, ex­plains Dar­win.

“I think it will put more pres­sure on us be­cause of the ex­pec­ta­tions now. But that is what we want for the ho­tel, we want to

be un­der the spot­light and we wel­come that ex­pec­ta­tion,” he says.

“This is all about tak­ing it to the next level. We al­ready have the best ser­vice scores in the Mid­dle East on Book­ing.com and the task now is to main­tain the suc­cess.

“Be­ing on Amaz­ing Ho­tels will el­e­vate us though in terms of be­ing a glob­ally recog­nised ho­tel, we al­ready have the me­dia ac­co­lades and awards so this is the next chap­ter.”

One of the more grip­ping seg­ments of the episode was when Dar­win gave an ad­dress, pay­ing trib­ute to his staff mem­bers, at a cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary of the re­sort’s open­ing.

His af­fec­tion for his team is gen­uine as he ex­plains to Ho­tel News Mid­dle East.

“The ho­tel was so busy that the staff had to be in­ter­viewed be­fore and af­ter their work shifts,” says Dar­win.

“It was never an is­sue though and the BBC team even sent us a thank you note. Our team was so help­ful, there were times when the crew needed lifts and all the ve­hi­cles be­long­ing to the ho­tel were in use, the staff were happy to drive the crew in their own ve­hi­cles.”

It is clear from watch­ing the episode that this is a ho­tel that takes hos­pi­tal­ity se­ri­ous, and it is equally ap­par­ent that Dar­win would not have it any other way.

This is all about tak­ing it to the next level. We al­ready have the best ser­vice scores in the Mid­dle East on Book­ing.com and the task now is to main­tain the suc­cess.”

Dar­ren Dar­win ad­dresses staff and VIPS at the cer­e­mony to cel­e­brate the ho­tel's an­niver­sary

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