The Tour of Oman seems to have been a reasonable success. It got us some great tourism friendly advertising in Europe and US with shots of the country looking pretty and safe, and the event itself seemed to go relatively smoothly. OK, there were a few problems with the traffic and access, because of the fundamental geography of Muscat using the picturesque roads for cycling means there are few other roads to either get anywhere or to actually get to the cycling or park once you did. They could have used more motorbikes to protect the riders and announce who the on-coming riders were. But all in all, a good job. I don't know how much it cost us, but at least we got the press and TV. The Wall St Journal even managed a story that worked the pun on bicycle and business cycle, Escaping the Business Cycle, Oman Embraces Cycling, that nicely noted the way Oman escaped the worst of the recent global crash.
Contrast that good news with the free press being generated across the globe by the new Dubai Mall aquarium springing a leak. Nicely summarised in quality Dubai-based blog Life in Dubai, the stories naturally drew a link with the closure of 'the world's highest viewing platform', and noted the instinctive response of those who run the mall to try and stop people taking photos. LOL. When will it sink in with the powers that be in this region that, thanks to the internet and a truly global media industry, the old methods for controlling information just don't work anymore. Thanks to camera phones, 3G networks, twitter and, yes, even blogs, stories need to be managed, and managed fast, not blocked. Sh. Maktoum's infamous "Shut up" comment to analysts, as he was under a bit of pressure to pay his vast debts, was beamed around the world in an instant. Stamping one's feet and behaving like a spoiled brat in the face of a bad news story being reported, or trying to suppress stories that are obviously already in the infosphere, are not how to handle PR problems. Toyota and Tiger Woods are lessons to learn too.
Photo: Twitter had the Dubai Mall Aquarium leak out within minutes. See Twitpic
So I'd just say, Oman, please learn these lessons from others. As our economy becomes more dependent on tourists and foreign trade, our reputation and brand need active professional management. I just hope that's what we are getting. What people want to see when a bad story breaks is not cover-ups and non-answers. Evidence of a problem being confidently and professionally handled is essential. Like any celebrity brand, long won gains aquired over decades can be eroded in an instant. It is essential we learn from the PR disaster that is Dubai. I emphasise that this is not about spin (although that is important), but about the fundamentals. For example, getting stories out about how progressive we are wrt women's rights in the Sultanate are OK, but when one sees stories about the ROP stupidly trying to stop an Omani lady getting a motorbike licence because of prejudice, this inconsistency between reality and PR is a problem.
Moving on. In news just in from Moscow, Omani crude oil may see a slightly lower market price in the future as a new Siberian Oil blend 'ESPO' hits the trading markets in the far east. As its closer to the far east markets (hence cheaper to ship) and is a higher quality oil (lighter, less sulphur) it looks like being a fast winner. This will impact not just Omani crude, but a lot of the Gulf too. OK, as long as global growth resumes, it won't be a huge problem, people will still need our crude, but it does indicate Oman will probably take some sort of trading hit on the price people are willing to pay for Omani Blend. Even if it's as low as $0.50 per barrel, remember that's over $120mln a year. Ouch.
"The crude is much better than other Persian Gulf grades, and the voyage is much shorter, so it's attractive for most of us," said a trader with an East Asian refiner that may soon try ESPO.
"ESPO is a very vanilla kind of grade, a good grade, much more pleasant than Oman, so refiners in Northeast Asia should be all over it," a trader said.
The completion of a pipeline to China from the Siberian town of Skovorodino by 2012 will take output to about 600,000 bpd from 250,000 bpd projected in the first quarter, making it easier for Chinese refiners to buy ESPO regularly, possibly via term deals.
"Once you have that kind of volume and consumer acceptance, you are looking at a situation where Middle East grades would be at a disadvantage," said Tchilinguirian from BNP Paribas.
And finally, Amouage does well.
Even perfume can create good press when handled correctly. Kudos to shockingly young Amouage CEO David Crickmore and his team for getting the good press out on their launch in Dubai (urh, wouldn't Abu Dhabi be better?) and London. Read the CNN story at Oman's royal family scents global profit in luxury perfumes. (yes, all headline editors love puns)
Photo: Left to right: David Crickmore, Amouage CEO with Syrian Actress Soulaf Fawakherji and Sayyid Khalid bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Amouage Chairman, during a private tour of the new flagship store in Muscat [AME info].
I didn't realise that Amouage was started at the direction of HM in 1983 by His Highness Sayyid Hamad bin Hamoud Al Busaidi, nor that the 'Amouage Gold' scent was created by a famous Parisian Nose & legendary French parfumier, Guy Robert. Its a pity the CEO, Art Director and Nose are expats, but hey, that's how it goes sometimes when you want the best and the best is what it takes in the International Smellies business. At least most of the employees are, I believe, Omani. You can read more about Amouage in an excellent article here.
I also like the idea of further investment in developing and extending the Amouage brand. It could be a very good way of high-grading and expanding local products, as long as extreme quality and (always an ephemeral thing) 'class' are maintained.
But well done Amouage.