Sometimes it’s hard to find the right price for what the client wants. Adam Coulter looks at how agents can switch-sell to the Middle East for everything from a beach holiday to a cultural city break.

Sea change

Everybody told me: “Oh you must dive the Red Sea, why haven’t you dived the Red Sea yet?” Hand on heart, I had no idea. My travels had taken me to the Caribbean, Mexico, Thailand and the Canary Islands, but never the Red Sea.

I had the idea of experiencing this scuba hotspot from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - a new country for me. My thinking was the coral and the sea life around those popular parts of the Red Sea - Aqaba, Sharm and El Gouna – might be ‘over-dived’, so why not try out somewhere where dive tourism is still in its infancy?

I was not disappointed. As well as crystal-clear waters, the spots we dived, Table Mountain and Chicken Wreck, had an abundance of marine life – squirrel fish, grouper, wrasse, jacks, trevellies, pufferfish and a blue-spotted ray; as well as big growth corals – fan and brain – all good signs of the health of these waters.

The only thing missing was large marine life, specifically sharks, and for that one spot kept coming up, again and again – the Musandam Peninsula in Oman. This rugged region, sliced in half by Ras al Khaimah, and jutting into the Strait of Hormuz, is the main thoroughfare for marine life going into and out of the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf. I resolved: My next dive trip would be Oman.

Market snapshot

Iain Raeper, If Only’s (now former) Commercial & Product Manager for the Middle East region, said: “The Gulf has performed fantastically well as an overall destination for If Only since the beginning of 2019.

“Specific ‘heroes’ have been Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, where room night production up to June 2019 exceeded the whole of 2018. Increased flight capacity to the region from the UK and Ireland, as well as supportive partnership campaigns with tourist boards have helped contribute towards this growth.

Raeper adds: “Dubai remains a popular destination, and will continue to grow into 2020 thanks to the eagerly anticipated World Expo, while Ajman is fast becoming the choice of sun worshippers who don’t want to be too far away from the action of Dubai, and Fujairah offers some of the most spectacular beaches in the UAE.”

Latest figures from the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Authority reveal that visitor numbers are up by 10% in 2018 compared to 2017. The emirate welcomed one million visitors in 2018.

Ras al Khaimah sees the opening of the Bear Grylls Survival Academy in Q1 2020, on Jebel Jais, which is already home to the world’s longest zip-line.

Qatar National Tourism Council and Qatar Airways have launched a summer in Qatar partnership, with savings of up to 25% on flights to Doha for travel up to August 16 2019, and 25% off participating hotels’ daily rates.

The 233-room Anantara Resort from luxury hospitality group Minor Hotels is due to open in a prime beachfront location in Sharjah next year.

Switch sells

The client asks for F1 in Monaco… you suggest F1 in Abu Dhabi: The Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place in Abu Dhabi at the end of November, and marks the end of the season. This year will be the 10th year Abu Dhabi has hosted the Grand Prix, which takes place over four days from November 28.

You’ll have to persuade your client to change their travel dates (bringing forward their May dates to November), and take a mid-haul flight (seven hours as opposed to an hour-and-a-half to Nice), but apart from that there are many similarities – a rich city state governed by an absolute monarchy, on the coast, with lovely weather and a wide selection of top-end hotels.

Shearings has a four-night holiday at the Park Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi, on a B&B basis, return transfers in resort, a three-day South Grandstand ticket to the Grand Prix, pit lane walk entry, access to the after-race concerts, a one-day pass to Ferrari World plus an Etihad Race Pack. Based on two sharing and departing the UK on November 27, prices start at £1,972pp, including return flights.

Alternative option: You could also suggest the Bahrain Grand Prix, which takes place in April.

The client asks for a long weekend city break with a focus on arts and dining in Europe… You suggest Muscat: The capital of Oman offers a culturally-rich mix of history, heritage and culture, which is celebrated and preserved. A Muscat city tour would include a visit to the Grand Mosque, the markets and souk in Muttrah and the Sultan’s Palace, which is flanked by the Portuguese forts Jalali and Mirani, before finishing with a visit to the Bait Al Zubair Museum for a look back in time at Oman’s past. Oman’s cuisine is also top-notch, whether fine hotel-based dining or more humble street food.

Gold Medal has three nights at the five-star Al Bandar at Shangri La Barr Al Jissah, staying in a deluxe room on a B&B basis, including return economy flights with Oman Air from Heathrow and the Muscat City Tour. Prices start from £906pp, up to September 30.

Alternative Option: The tiny, oil- and gas-rich nation of Qatar is gradually increasing its cultural offerings, including various art galleries and the National Museum of Qatar.

The client asks for an action-packed beach holiday in the Mediterranean… You suggest Ras Al Khaimah: Ras al Khaimah, or RAK, is fast-becoming the adventure capital of the Gulf. The Jebel Jais Flight zipline is 1.76 miles long and takes adrenaline junkies on a three-minute ride over spectacular rocky terrain.

RAK is the northernmost emirate and the nearest to Oman. If your client wants an idea of how Dubai was 30 years ago suggest here. It has the desert and beach but without the high-rises and traffic.

It also has a burgeoning luxury hotel scene, with a focus on eco-resorts. Next year sees the opening of The Anantara Resort in Mina Al Arab. An eco-sanctuary, It will have 300 rooms, suites and over-water villas in sthe style of a property in the Maldives. An InterContinental is also due to open in Mina al Arab, followed by eight more hotels in 2021.

If Only has five nights at the five-star deluxe Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, in a Classic Room, including complimentary half-board and return flights with Emirates from £939pp.

Alternative Option: Neighbouring Oman is even less developed, especially in the rugged Musandam Peninsula, and is world famous for its spectacular scuba diving.

The client asks for a luxury break in the Caribbean with lots of activities for the kids… You suggest Dubai: Compared to the Caribbean, Dubai involves a shorter flight and often more competitive deals for flights and hotels.

Sheryl Makin, Director of the Luxury Travel Boutique, was asked to find a beach holiday for a family with musts including a warm climate, a golf destination, some interest for foodies and lots of activities for young adults. She says: “They were thinking Caribbean but I quoted four hotels in Dubai and they liked the new Mandarin Oriental best. This option is perfect for them as they have a huge choice of golf courses and packages which I can pre-book for them. They are also keen on racing so I’m looking in to a day at Meyden race course for them.

“There are endless suggestions for activities and days out for the adult sons, from a snow dome to water parks and dune buggy excursions.”

Lusso Travel is offering six nights at the Mandarin Oriental Dubai for four people, half-board with transfers, and return economy flights with Emirates for £3,415pp, departing in December 2019.

Alternative option: Ajman is also worth considering for a fly-and-flop holiday with hotel-based activities. It’s easily accessible from Dubai, just a 40-minute drive along the coast, but still relatively unknown.