Khaleeji travellers have something of a reputation. They are not known as risk takers. In fact, on the surface, some seem to miss the point of travel entirely, choosing to cling to familiar destinations and fearing the unknown. Is this reputation really fair, though? Is it not possible that tourists from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) might just be a bit scared?
When your home country is clean and modern, of course you want to travel in comfort, but this does not necessarily mean you do not want to learn about the countries and cultures you are visiting. Maybe you just do not know where to start.
This premise is exactly what the founders of the Kuwaiti tour operator Doroub – meaning avenues – has managed to turn into a thriving business in just six years.
Forget stereotypes. Dr Ali Al-Kanderi, Omar Al-Abdulghafour and Omar Alhouti know their clients want more, but they also understand that they do not want to have to rough it in the process. Their customers are a new breed – neither millennials nor retirees, but an emerging ageless demographic who want to feel comfortable and enjoy their holidays while learning about the places and people they are visiting.
“This kind of guided travel isn’t a new idea,” explains Omar Al-Abdulghafour while we chat on a balmy evening; he and the team are planning ahead for their autumn itinerary. “It was inspired by American and European tour groups. We made it a more friendly and community-like environment, tailored for the GCC market by encouraging our customers to engage directly with us via social media, and the GCC market has really embraced it. Arabs might have a reputation for being insular and only interested in shopping malls and cafes, but this is such an unfair stereotype and a bit of a lazy cliché.”
Omar adds, “One of the main reasons we set up Doroub was to knock down these walls and break down the boundaries between cultures. In the same way that some tourists might look to the Middle East and be fearful of terrorism and the unknown, our clients look to the likes of South America and Russia, and they think they will be unsafe. We are here to show them the warmth of other cultures, the kind of hospitality they would automatically show anyone visiting them.”
So, what can you expect if you book a tour with Doroub? “It obviously depends on the destination,” explains Omar. “We started with Spain, which offers so much culture and ancient Arabic architecture, which it is always popular, but we quickly established ourselves in South America and we are now looking to India and China for future trips. Each tour is for an average 20 to 25 people of all ages. One of our team will have been to the destination first to make sure it is right for our clients, which is really important. Everything is paid for in advance including hotels, fees and access to attractions and our guides all speak Arabic so that allows our customers to relax.” In addition to being Arabic speakers, Doroub’s guides are experts or researchers in the history or the culture relevant to the destination being visited.
“The only thing we don’t cover is flights,” he continues. “We mostly deal with five-star hotels, and we have to be really careful to make sure that it is right for our clients, especially with things like food. Food is a really big issue for us, so we have to make sure our clients can get the food they’re comfortable with. Some countries, like Peru, just can’t guarantee Halal food, so we let clients know and recommend they stay vegetarian on the trip to be safe. It is details like this, as well as the quality of our staff and the research we do, which we hope makes us stand out from the crowd.”
However, it is not just the practical details that Doroub wants to get right. “We want to change the human experience,” says Omar. “Our goal is to take people from the coffee shops and shopping malls that they are used to and show them real culture in the countries that they tell us they want to visit. It’s an organic process. We vote on which destinations our clients want to go to, then we take four to eight months to plan a trip. We take GCC guides with us for a feeling of familiarity, and we work with the best local partners. We want every detail to be right and people appreciate that.”
He continues, “And it is not just for the very wealthy. Everyone from the middle class upwards can afford our trips, and we get a diverse mix of people of all ages and backgrounds. When we are looking for new destinations, we do a lot of research. We ask people directly where they want to go, then we look to the wider market and see whether it would suit our customers.”
“There will always be difficulties,” he adds. “For example, it is very tricky to find good hotels in Russia, but we have found the Russians to be very helpful, and we have made it work.”
And for 2017, Doroub’s friendly founders have even bigger plans. “In the future, we might open more offices, maybe in Riyadh or Doha, and we are working on our English website to welcome more clients. It does not seem to matter how old people are – the one thing our customers have in common is a desire to explore and discover, and that is lovely to see. We also have clients who reach out to us from outside the GCC, so that is a growing market for us. We are here for as long as our clients want to travel with us, and it is an amazing position to be in.”
Mindful of bringing tourists into Kuwait and the GCC, as well as encouraging them to travel abroad, Doroub also hosts 12 different tours in Kuwait itself, ranging from Greek and Arabic ruins to educational tours of important sites involved in the Gulf War. “We love to travel, but we are also very proud of what we have to offer at home,” says Omar. “We hope to do more tours like this in Kuwait and the rest of the GCC, so we can show people more of the region’s true culture, as well as help our people explore the rest of the world.”
Emily McCarrik is a British journalist.