It is never a surprise when an illustrious hotel in the Middle East becomes the toast of the industry, but it is not as common when that property also captures the public imagination.
But that is exactly what happened when Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort in Oman was the subject of a television programme in the UK broadcast by the BBC.
The award-winning hotel was the only property from the region selected for the second series of Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby.
The episode, which is presented by Giles Coren and Monica Galetti who are both household names in the UK, has won rave reviews and, as general manager Darren Darwin tells Hotel News Middle East, it is already providing the hotel with an increased level of interest from all over the world.
“The BBC was looking for hotels from all over the world that were unique and captured the imagination,” says Darwin.
“They had specified that in this series they would only showcase one hotel in the Middle East. I know that over 100 hotels from the region applied to be part of the show.”
As you would expect from a broadcaster with the BBC’s reputation for excellence, it was a painstaking process before the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort became the envy of the GCC and was chosen to be featured on Amazing Hotels.
“We went through months of interviews and I personally must have had at least 15 Skype interviews with the production team about what we do at the resort and why what we have is so special,” he says.
After numerous consultations with the BBC team, the resort was placed on a final shortlist of six possible locations for the smash-hit show.
“Being a beautiful resort is not enough and once they realised we had the characters and personalities that could make a connection with the audience they sent out a recce team,” says Darwin.
“After the recce team had been here we received a phone call from the BBC that we had been chosen to be on Amazing Hotels. The producer and director arrived with a production team of six people in September of last year and stayed for four or five weeks.”
It is another string to the property’s bow that it is the only international brand to feature at all in the series – the BBC famously avoid promoting brands where at all possible.
“The producers had to go to the BBC top brass and say ‘we’ve got this hotel that we really like and want it on the show’,” says Darwin.
“The fact that they fought to put us on air shows how highly they thought of us.”
Given that the shoot took place in Q4, traditionally the busiest time of the year for hotels across the GCC, the BBC really could not have wished for a more apt time to get a true reflection of life at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort.
“We had almost a full hotel, I would do my checks and then when that was done I would go to the library where the one-on-one interviews would take place. I must have had six sittings like that,” he says.
“When you first see me with Monica you can tell that was the first thing filmed because of how nervous I am.”
It sounds hard to believe that an award-winning general manager of such a prestigious property would suffer nerves, but it is a sign of the esteem that the show and its presenters are held in.
“I did some research on both Monica and Giles and realise they are both really well-known in the UK,” says Darwin.
“It was okay for other team members here who just saw it as two people talking to them but it was a bit more for me as I knew all my family members back home in the UK would be watching. That said, they were great and really made me feel at ease – I was really pleased by how it went.
“We have had the Top Gear team here as well as CNN but nothing compares to this – it truly is special.”
The success of the show has seen a spike in interest about the property – which was already enjoying rave reviews and high occupancy rates.
“Enquiries about the hotel are going through the roof and everyone who has seen the show has said how beautiful it looks, commercially we are going to do very well out of it,” says Darwin.
The hotel and surrounding area will not be the only ones to benefit from the exposure that being on Amazing Hotels provides though.
“It will do very well for Oman, it shows the country in a new light,” he says.
“At the same time, it is very authentic and is very Arabic in ways that you are not going to get in the likes of the UAE.”
The show has already made a star out of Darwin, if his recent trip to Thailand is anything to go by.
“I got recognised by two people on a speedboat going to James Bond island,” he says.
“One of them turned round to me and said ‘you’re Darren from Amazing Hotels’. It turns out it is one of their favourite shows and they had watched it in Thailand on the Wednesday and saw me on the boat on the Thursday.”
The success of the show does put the already internationally renowned hotel under added scrutiny, explains Darwin.
“I think it will put more pressure on us because of the expectations now. But that is what we want for the hotel, we want to be under the spotlight and we welcome that expectation,” he says.
“This is all about taking it to the next level. We already have the best service scores in the Middle East on Booking.com and the task now is to maintain the success.
“Being on Amazing Hotels will elevate us though in terms of being a globally recognised hotel, we already have the media accolades and awards so this is the next chapter.”
One of the more gripping segments of the episode was when Darwin gave an address, paying tribute to his staff members, at a ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of the resort’s opening.
His affection for his team is genuine as he explains to Hotel News Middle East.
“The hotel was so busy that the staff had to be interviewed before and after their work shifts,” says Darwin.
“It was never an issue though and the BBC team even sent us a thank you note. Our team was so helpful, there were times when the crew needed lifts and all the vehicles belonging to the hotel were in use, the staff were happy to drive the crew in their own vehicles.”
It is clear from watching the episode that this is a hotel that takes hospitality serious, and it is equally apparent that Darwin would not have it any other way.