Muscat: Expats living in Oman, as well as tourists who come to visit the Sultanate, can now enjoy a genuine, authentic Shuwa experience, almost as if they were a part of the family.
A new Omani company, called Zayr (Arabic for ‘visitor’), has been set up under the start-up accelerator programme run by the nation’s Information Technology Authority and has managed to find a booming market of Omanis who want to share their Eid festivities with expats.
For a price, expats can visit and spend time with an Omani family, sharing the traditional Shuwa experience. Shuwa is an Omani dish which is prepared by cooking meat in an underground oven for at least 24 hours.
Hamed Al Amri, Co-Founder and CEO of the start-up, exclusively told Times of Oman about the demand, “When we started the testing phase, we got 74 requests from local families who wanted to share their Shuwa experience with expats. A lot of local families want to be part of this. We ran a social media ad for two days and received more than 80 requests.”
Expats who have tried the experience have spoken highly of what it felt like to have a day inside the life of an Omani family.
David Scanlon, a businessman from Ireland, said, “We couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming, attentive, and engaging host. It was an easy and relaxed atmosphere, and the conversation was as good as the food. This was a really rare chance to have a genuine connection with a local Omani family, and to learn more about this fascinating and ancient culture.”
Ikhasn Tarmizi, a Petroleum Engineeer from Indonesia, said, “The process of taking Shuwa from the ground was interesting and of course the meal provided during lunch time was very authentic. We were expecting food but we ended up with a new family!”
According to Al Amri, the idea all started with his own family. “Our story started five years ago when I invited my friends to visit my family and experience an Eid celebration,” he said.
“My mum enjoyed having the visitors so much that she asked me to invite more people. After a while, I came to realise that my family and I were having the world come to our doorsteps. We learned a lot from the people that visited us. We made beautiful friendships that have lasted for years.”
When families request to become part of the programme, Zayr visits and vets the families to make sure that they can offer not only food, but also the full cultural experience. The visits cost $50, around OMR20, per adult, although children can be brought along for free.
“Omanis are open to that,” Al Amri said, “and visitors respect cultural differences that may exist. Furthermore, we have a cultural guide to help them make the best out of the experience.”
Abeer Hashim Al Mosalhi, project specialist at the ITA and manager of the Accelerator programme, told Times of Oman, “Seven promising Omani startups are currently under the accelerator programme, including Zayr. “We work with startups that are focused on accelerating their business and who meet the selection criteria and Zayr’s team has met them all. To add to that, Zayr’s idea is very creative and serves an important sector, which is tourism.
Things look promising for Zayr, with the company so far having been able to attract customers with its innovative idea.
“Zayr is doing great. They are in the early stages of their startup, but with such a great idea and a great team, we have high hopes for them,” Al Mosalhi said.
“The programme aims to prepare and equip tech start-ups to take their businesses to the next level, through an intensive technical and business focused program. The program is facilitated by experienced international Google Developers Launchpad mentors and selected local subject matter experts.
“We have also partnered with Dentons and PwC which will support the program through legal and financial expertise,” she added. The startup teams accepted into the programme start with a 10-week orientation.
“The programme starts with Phase One – ‘Explore’. It focuses on the startups’ further discovery of their business, team, product and customers, in addition to setting their target goals from the program,” Al Mosalhi said.
“This will be provided through design thinking, a founders’ lab, and objective key results (OKR) workshops.
“With the implementation of that phase, they will be moving forward to phase two or ‘learn’, which aims to grow the startups’ knowledge, with practical implementation in terms of technology, marketing, legal, project management and financials, to further fine tune the development of their business,” she