Twin centre destinations? They have been a feature of the incentive travel market for ever it seems, but often can be overlooked in the pursuit of the elusive singular ‘wow’ factor. However, twin centre events have unique merits and can be a heady mix of experiences, imprinting lasting memories on those attending. They are the ‘holistic’ option of the incentive travel market.
So what makes for a good twin centre?
Having recently attended a fam trip to Zanzibar and Oman, what struck me was the diversity and contrast of the destinations that on their own may be a bit limited, but together combined to great effect. Variety, contrast and richness of experience are the benefits to the delegate, and more effective events and budget utilisation are some of the potential client benefits.
- Zanzibar is not unknown to the incentive travel market; however, it is mostly combined with events to Kenya or Tanzania, but not to the Middle East.
- Oman is often in the shadow of more showy regional competitors, yet has the facilities to provide something quite exotic and unique.
Together these really are non-identical twins that work. Here is an overview of where I went, what I did and my thoughts about potential benefits for incentive travel groups and clients looking for something a little different.
Zanzibar & incentive travel
Just south of the Equator, and famous as one of the Spice Islands, this semi-autonomous part of Tanzania has a fascinating history and story to tell reflecting its colonial past of Persian, Omani, Portuguese, German and British influence, and its position as East Africa’s leading trading post for spices and slaves. The relationship with Oman dates to 1698 and is one that established the production of spice.
The flight from Oman was a contrast to the one in from Heathrow. It was an older plane and the service was to be expected for a regional route. This perhaps was no bad thing because on arrival in Zanzibar the experience starts! The ‘terminal’ is a very basic building and the process is very informal. Visas are purchased on arrival and the process of taking your picture and delivering your visa is pretty swift, although it is impossible to identify someone from their picture. Once the visa is sorted it’s out the door, to the baggage reclaim – a block with the cases popped onto – and then off to another place to change money and its chalkboard of rates. Welcome to relaxed and friendly Zanzibar.
Our stay took in two resort properties. First The Residence (a Leading Hotel of the World), a venue that is literally in a “world of its own”. It is a retreat and a perfect place to relax. Private villas, private plunge pools, butlers (and bikes!) and a fun glass swimming pool, the resort is a fabulous oasis of calm and would be a great base for a short stay as part of an incentive. It has a centre, but the one thing that struck me is that it has the feel of an exclusive use property because individuals will use the villas, groups the central areas.
We also stayed at the award winning 4* Neptune Pwani – important to add it is an international 4*, which again provided a restful escape from the bustle and buzz, with airy, spacious and impressive rooms. The restaurants cater for all, the outdoor part was particularly impressive and as you’d expect, the seafood options were first class.
An itinerary would have to include visits to spice farms, and here the true Zanzibar experience came alive. The farms are not tourist attractions and the hosts are not tour guides. They are real working farms. Expect a sensual assault - a lot of smelling and sampling from cups made of leaves, all explained beautifully by your host in an entertaining and amusing way. The explanation of the aphrodisiac properties of nutmeg was very local and very, very funny! Fruit is also a feature of the local economy and, along with many sampling sessions, tips for recipes and cures were many and varied, but highly entertaining, real world and contributed to a fun, authentic experience.
Other elements of the Zanzibar experience would include:
- the beaches, although they are not Caribbean pristine and resorts tend to be centred around the pool areas
- boat trips in dhows for snorkelling in the Indian ocean
- private lunches or gala dinners in a private cove or island
- Stonetown – the old part of Zanzibar City is a UNESCO world heritage site and is fascinating. Aside from Freddie Mercury growing up here, the slavery connection is very evident
- Visits to the monkey and turtle sanctuaries
In conclusion – Zanzibar delivers a real world experience among people that are very proud, happy, kind and generous. The experience is something I have never felt elsewhere, and the blend of resort and everyday culture is wonderful and would reward any incentive travel group.
Back to Muscat
The flight out of Zanzibar arrives late so Oman has to be the second centre of the event. And this is no bad thing. It is more developed, more modern and more international in outlook. The perfect foil to Zanzibar and one that soothes and calms the senses!
Our first night at the 5* hotel, Chedhi immersed us into what I thought was a “very Zen feel”. With a beachfront location, the tranquil, relaxing environment and superb spa facilities are ideal for re-energising and preparing for the cultural experience of Oman and Muscat.
Oman is very traditional and hence authentic; the cultural and political landscape is still very regal, and society seemed conservative and respectful. This does not distract from the attraction and enhances the contrast with Zanzibar. My ideas for an itinerary are:
- A tour of the main mosque – my advice here is: do not forget the sunglasses, it is very, very white and clean. The experience is nothing short of spectacular and conveys the central position of religion in society.
- The museum of traditional living – exactly as imagined but very informative and impressive, tracing the roots of the modern Oman
- Wadi bashing – you have to! The local ones are less impressive than the farther flung tours, however, it is one of those “when in Rome” things
- Experience Frankincense – a link to the Zanzibar element and quite extraordinary
- Off property dining in an old fort turret – complete with lighting and drama emanating from the sea! The potential here for gala dinners that are totally unique is spectacular – drop me a line if you want to know more!
Time in Oman concluded with a stay at the Shangri-La, just outside Oman. It is three properties in one that caters up to 5* plus standards. It is very integrated with a lazy river connecting two of the properties, superb restaurants, an amphitheatre, private beaches, a marina and cultural village. It was superb and has great potential for on resort evenings and sea activities.
And returning to the grey UK!
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the air aspect. This bowled me over – Oman Air provided one of the best air experiences I have ever had. Seat pitch is generous, there is onboard internet, a USB connection to the entertainment system and the food is a gourmet delight. To have this experience returning home is an added plus and contributes to why I believe Zanzibar and Oman are non-identical twins and perfect for it.
If you want a total contrast of colour, culture and sensual experience then it would take something very special to beat these two fabulous destinations. And for those who are incentive achievers, and likely to be well travelled, then this combination will be different, memorable and richly rewarding. Of that I have no doubt.
Kat’s Quick Snapshot
Here’s where she went and her top line thoughts.
- Oman Air – a quality product, excellent amenities and guaranteed you wont go hungry.
- The Residence Zanzibar - a paradise retreat with the ultimate 'wow' factor.
- Neptune Pwani Beach – a great property for those more budget conscious.
- Melia Zanzibar – 180 rooms on 2km of beach and in 40 hectares. A lot of investment has resulted in a first class property that can cater for larger groups without losing the intimacy and luxury. Conference facilities are great as well.
- Boutique options perfect for smaller groups and very open to exclusive use: Breezes (a Conde Nast Top 30 beach property); Palms, part of the Zanzibar Collection; The Serena Hotel in Stone Town – for a twist on the history, a sea front location in old Zanzibar City;
- The Jozani Forest National Park - home to the endangered, indigenous Red Colobus monkey. A great activity on the boardwalks routed among the forest and mangroves.
- Spice Farms – a real world illustration of what I experienced, ginger and cinnamon!
- Stone Town – must visit, this old part of Zanzibar City brings the local story to life.
- The Chedhi Muscat – zen relaxed luxury, impressive public areas and fantastic cuisine, with open kitchens to see the chefs in action
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat – a very impressive complex, with an informative cultural tour. Abide by the norms of the culture and cover appropriately (girls and boys!) or you wont be allowed in
- Shangri La, Muscat - an ideal resort if you want to spend time on property, they have everything you can think of for all sizes of events and occasions