Brief: A couple are searching for a two-week holiday in Oman, combining a few days by the beach with some culture and history. They would like to stay in high-end hotels in Muscat and also want to enjoy a few excursions such as a desert safari and a visit to Salalah or Musandam.
Verdict: The winning agent found the right hotels and varied excursions for a perfect holiday.
Winner: Carolyn Lodge Travel
Kent House, High Street, Cranleigh
This clean and attractive shop was beautifully furnished and decorated, with lots of brochures near the entrance, so I had a real sense of anticipation when I went in. The agent got up and welcomed me straight away, which got the visit off to a good start, and she was friendly and attentive while I explained what I was looking for.
She couldn’t give me any prices off-hand, but she called on another member of staff and between them they offered some useful tips and information. I was a bit disappointed not to be given a quote or a way of contacting the agent in the store, but a detailed itinerary with suggestions for hotels, flights, excursions and extras was emailed through to me quite quickly.
They squeezed in a few nights in Musandam, Muscat and then Salalah for £7,668 in total with Abercrombie & Kent. The agent seemed genuinely keen to make sure I got the holiday I wanted and made the best use of my time. I really felt that my specific requests were being met.
Winning agent: Alix Ewins, travel consultant
“I’ve been here nearly a year and although Oman is not somewhere I’ve visited, we get regular training on destinations and hotels. Oman is somewhere that we sell an awful lot and several of my colleagues have been there, so it’s just about pulling together everyone’s expertise.”
1-4 Petworth Road, Haslemere
The shop had an interesting window display. I spoke to a well-dressed agent who was friendly and knowledgeable, offering tips that appeared to be based on real experience of Oman.
I was given a luxurious brochure and told in detail about the hotels in the area, but I was a bit surprised that some options, such as an eight-day Discover Oman tour that I later found in the brochure, weren’t discussed. The assistant was polite but didn’t ask many questions. I left without any idea of dates, prices or excursions. I was told I would get a full quote and itinerary sent by email but I still hadn’t received this a week later.
72 High Street, Godalming
Offers and posters in this shop window lured me inside, where I found a well-stocked rack of brochures. There were three members of staff, but it was quite off-putting that two of them talked loudly while the third was trying to help me. The agent who dealt with me was quite friendly, but didn’t seem to know much about Oman or appear willing to spend much time researching.
I was given a Thomas Cook Signature brochure, but no up-to-date prices or advice. I felt like I would have to go home and do all the research myself and then just return to the shop to hand over my deposit.
Want to know how you could have scored 100%? We look at some options to make Mystery Shopper’s ideal itinerary
Oman is a vibrant destination that brings together palm tree-lined beaches, cultural and historical highlights, and adventures in its vast deserts and mountain ranges.
It’s not a cheap place – although the budget and mid-range sectors are growing – but offers variety for holidaymakers keen to visit somewhere new in the Gulf.
Where to go
Our mystery shopper could have flown into Muscat on one of British Airways’ or Oman Air’s daily flights from Heathrow, and stayed for two or three days at one of the many five-star hotels such as the Shangri-La, Grand Hyatt, The Chedi or Al Bustan Palace.
Three nights’ B&B at the Al Bustan Palace in September costs £369 per person with Virgin Holidays, excluding flights, or £749 with Hayes & Jarvis, including flights from Heathrow via Bahrain.
What to do
After exploring the opulent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace and the Muttrah Souk, visitors can leave Muscat for a two or three-day trip to the desert to visit monuments such as Nizwa’s 17th-century fort.
Kuoni’s three-day Ancient Forts & Castles tour starts in Nakhl and takes in Nizwa and Bahla forts before heading to a vantage point in the peaks of Jebel Akhdar. Prices start at £669 including two nights’ hotel accommodation.
The vast red and white dunes at Wahiba Sands are within easy reach of Muscat. Rainbow Tours has a three-day trip, which also takes in the ancient port of Sur and the turtles nesting at Ras Al Jinz, staying in a Bedouin tent at the Thousand Nights Camp. Prices start at £870.
In Salalah in the south visitors can follow the Frankincense trail to see lush, green landscapes, while visitors to Musandam in the north can enjoy boat trips on the fjords.
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