Expectation counts for a lot. It’s what makes “good” something that makes you happy or something that disappoints. Go to a chain restaurant like La Tasca, Pizza Express or Cafe Rouge expecting an OK meal, and you’ll probably be fairly pleased with what you get. Go after being told that it’s one of the best dining experiences you’ll ever have, and you’ll feel like you’ve been utterly cheated.
This is something that the Al Nahda Resort in Oman has to be very careful about, as it is possibly aiming too high. And your experience there will greatly shaped by what you were expecting.
‘A good quality resort’
Taken objectively, Al Nahda is a good quality resort set in a pretty mango plantation. The rooms are spacious, the beds extremely comfortable and the decor imaginative. The matched curtains, bedspreads and wardrobes feel traditionally Omani in a resort that otherwise comes across as completely detached from the country it’s in. The pool is a winner and the grounds are beautiful – even if the gardens feel ridiculously at odds with the desert environment outside the gates. Meanwhile, the two restaurants serve up pretty good food without ever breaking out into the realms of spectacular.
And that’s what, on the whole, Al Nahda is. It’s a good resort that never threatens to venture near a wow factor. It’s comparable to a solid four star resort in thethat, barring a few niggles, won’t really give you too much room for complaint. Great, if that’s what you’re expecting.
Identifying the competition
However, Al Nahda likes to play up its five star rating, and charges 150 Omani rials (around £247 at current exchange rate) a night. With that in mind, you may well be expecting something altogether more fabulous.
With that rack rate, Al Nahda is unquestionably overpriced. Not by a ridiculous amount, but it is overpriced nonetheless. Then again, just about every hotel in Oman is overpriced to roughly the same degree.
The problem for Al Nahda is that it is not really competing with other hotels in Oman. It’s a good 30 minute drive away from the airport and at least 50 minutes away from the parts of Muscat that you’d really want to visit. It’s inconvenient for exploring the country – many tours won’t pick up from there as it’s too far out – and, realistically, the people who will stay there are the ones that want a relaxing resort holiday for a week or two.
Therefore, the competition isn’t really with other spots in Oman – it’s with resorts in other winter sun destinations across the world. With that in mind, it suddenly seems expensive for what you get – and you can justifiably start to pick at the flaws.
Five stars: By the letter or in spirit?
Al Nahda has the vibe of somewhere that has realised precisely what facilities it needs to install to get a five star rating, and has put them in so that the right boxes are ticked. The attention to detail that makes somewhere feel five star is missing, however. There’s no shower screen or curtain around the bath, the TV looks like it’s from 1993 and whilst there are tea and coffee making facilities, there are no mugs or cups to pour the drinks into. Service is frustratingly inconsistent as well – there appears to be a culture of not taking responsibility for problems. It’s the sort of resort where the maid will carefully fold your dirty socks and pants, but you have to phone reception four times before someone finally comes to stock the mini bar.
We waited five minutes at the Lebanese restaurant for a waiter to show up – he was round the back chatting to a colleague on a golf buggy – and the employee in charge of the pool bar decided to go missing at lunchtime. He eventually reappeared 25 minutes and two phone calls later, whilst four chaps sat by the pool towel shack doing absolutely nothing.
This may seem like pointless, mindless nitpicking, but it’s the sort that is perfectly valid given how Al Nahda bills and prices itself.
At the end of our stay, we sat and brainstormed a few things we’d compare Al Nahda to. Here’s the list – it should give you a good idea of where to pitch your expectations:
A Mars Bar, There She Goes by The Las, Rubens Barrichello, Matthew Hoggard, Wayne Bridge, Inspector Morse, a Tom Hanks film, Elbow, Aston Villa, Tim Henman, Dirk Kuyt, the nation of, Michael Buble, the entire directorial career of Ron Howard.
In other words, pretty good without really coming close to being top drawer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – but expectations do need to be managed accordingly.
Disclosure: Al Nahda Resort and Spa on a complimentary basis for two nights in November 2010.