Many Middle Eastern destinations offer a striking contrast of cutting-edge city life and traditional desert experiences. Debbie Ward rounds up top choices for a range of clients keen to combine the two.
Sometimes it can be hard for clients to decide whether they want to experience the high-life of the city or more relaxed surrounds. In the Middle East both options can offer a range of experiences from action packed theme parks, shopping, sports and culture in the city to traditional camps and experiences such as dune bashing and archaeology further afield.
Whether you are recommending a family break or a group getaway, we have itineraries that will cover multiple bases.
“Dubai has seen strong growth and enthusiasm from families as a safe destination offering affordable flights, value-for-money accommodation and a variety of attractions,” says Shahab Shayan, senior manager UK and Ireland, international operations, Visit Dubai.
The city boasts beaches, water parks and word-class theme parks including the recently opened IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai Parks and Resorts, which includes Legoland Dubai, and the forthcoming Dubai Safari Park.
City attractions are complemented by camel rides, falcon experiences, safaris and hot air balloon rides over the nearby Arabian desert. Shayan adds: “For those wanting to marry adventure and authenticity, the Hatta Mountain Bike Trail Centre offers beginner-friendly trails through the hidden beauty of the Hajar mountains and rustic old Hatta Villages.”
Kuoni, meanwhile, suggests twinning Dubai with lower key Ras Al Khaimah next door where, at the Al Wadi Desert – a Ritz-Carlton Partner Hotel – there’s a falconry deck, stables for dune riding and a dedicated Experience Concierge.
Book it: Kuoni offers three nights at JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel (which has a free shuttle bus to Legoland) and four nights in a pool villa at Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah. For August 2017 this costs from £5,196 for two adults and two children aged 2-11 sharing, including breakfast, Emirates flights and transfers.
“Oman is the perfect destination for couples looking for a truly authentic, quality Arabian experience,” says Her Excellency Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary for the Oman Ministry of Tourism.
Highlights of capital Muscat include the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the National Museum, performances at the Grand Opera House, and the famous Mutrah Souk, which, Al Mahrouqi says, “features myriad hawkers selling everything from frankincense to pottery, gold, dates, carpets and carvings.”
Among high-end Muscat hotels Premier Holidays recommends The Chedi for romance because it features a large Balinese spa and is lit with candles by night.
There are plenty of Bedouin camps within two hours of the capital from the authentic style to those with air-conditioned tents.
“Beyond Muscat, couples will find a country largely untouched by tourism, where people sustain their historical lifestyle,” says Al Mahrouqi.
Book it: Premier Holidays recommends four nights’ B&B at The Chedi Muscat followed by one night’s half-board in a tented suite at a Wahiba Sands desert camp for £1,899pp. It includes Oman Air flights and a scenic 4x4 transfer with an English-speaking guide, based on two sharing, travelling September 2017.
For active groups of friends there’s plenty of excitement on offer in Abu Dhabi.
“Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi; shop for jewellery, carvings and handmade carpets in the city’s souks, or designer clothing in its air conditioned malls; watch dolphins and hawksbill turtles on the beautiful white sand Saadiyat Beach, or drag race against your mates in a Mercedes AMG at the Formula One racetrack,” suggests Nabeel Al Zarouni, UK country manager, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.
Excursions to the Empty Quarter – the largest expanse of sand in the world – offer the chance to try dune-bashing, camel trekking, sand-surfing and starlit dinners.
For safari, Sir Bani Yas Island’s desert is home to more than 13,000 free-roaming animals. “Where else can you watch a cheetah take down a gazelle in the morning, and be swimming in the warm Arabian Gulf in the afternoon?” asks Al Zarouni.
Book it: Lusso offers three nights at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi with half-board and two nights’ B&B at Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa on Sir Bani Yas Island from £1,210pp based on two sharing with BA flights and transfers. Valid for stays up to September 30, 2017.
Jordan for mature clients Aqaba, Jordan’s coastal city, is less frenetic than others in the Middle East, making for a more laid-back stay. It is within reach of bucket-list Unesco-site Petra and Wadi Rum, where mature clients should enjoy tracing the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, made famous by the 1962 film.
“Surrounded by miles of sandy beaches and only a short journey from national historic sites, Aqaba is the ideal base,” says Mahmoud Freihat, UK marketing executive, Jordan Tourism Board. “Explore the many restaurants, hotels, and shops along the shoreline or dive into the Red Sea.”
Clients can also enjoy the popular retirement sport, golf, at recently opened, eco-friendly 18-hole championship course Ayla Golf Club. Aqaba is between one and two hours’ drive from stunning 2,000-yearold archeological site Petra.
At Wadi Rum, besides seeing TE Lawrence sites, visitors can sleep under the stars in a luxury Bedouin tent and take a camel ride or a jeep safari.
Royal Jordanian is now flying same-day connecting flights to Aqaba on Friday nights from Heathrow.
Book it: Abercrombie & Kent has a seven-day classic Jordan tour including Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea for £1,695pp including flights. It can tailor-make a stay at the Movenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay in Aqaba and in private Beduoin-style tents with beds at the Wadi Rum Night Camp or Bespoke Hideaways.
Sport is part of the fabric of Qatari society. Ancient pasttimes such as camel racing, falconry, horse racing and dhow regattas still command an enthusiastic following while the city hosts up to 80 global sporting events annually.
For adrenalin-junkies, watersports are available at capital Doha’s luxury hotels. Visitors can also try kayaking within Qatar’s mangroves – where rolling sand dunes and limestone rock formations give way to 350 miles of coastline. More relaxed pursuits include city Dhow boat cruises at Doha Bay.
Heading into the desert, popular excursions include dune bashing in a 4x4 led by an experienced driver. Camel racing has evolved into an official and professional sport in Qatar. Al-Shahaniya racing track, an hour’s drive into the gleaming desert north of Doha, holds domestic and international tournaments on Fridays from November to February.
Hayes & Jarvis can package a stay in Doha with a full day desert trip and also suggests combining Qatar and Oman with Doha and Muscat stays and an overnight Oman Desert Experience with dune driving, a Bedouin house visit and a desert camp stay.
Book it: Hayes & Jarvis offers four nights’ room-only at Shangri-La Hotel Doha and a full-day Desert Safari for £949pp including Qatar Airways flights on an August 15, 2017 departure. For a Qatar and Oman combination, two nights’ room-only at Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, three nights’ B&B at Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Al Waha, Muscat, and an overnight Oman Desert Experience starts from £1,579pp, departing October 10, 2017.