Travellers to Oman who must book their hotel for institutional quarantine via Sahala – https://covid19.emushrif.om – have been left in the lurch as the app shows the majority of approved hotels as ‘Sold out’ or ‘No available rooms’. Those using the app have also been unable to find hotel options to suit their needs or prepone and postpone bookings leading to confusion and inconvenience.
According to eMushrif, which operates Sahala and oversees institutional quarantine processes in the country, passengers need to complete traveller registration and hotel booking details through the platform before travel.
However, after the recent decision by the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling the COVID-19 pandemic to limit entry to the country to citizens and residents only from 12 noon on Thursday, April 8, many people who had booked their flights earlier needed to either prepone or postpone their hotel bookings but were unable to do so.
“I went through a very difficult time trying to find a hotel that suits my budget for my cousins visiting me. I know in Oman, we have thousands of hotel rooms but on Sahala, there is only a handful. And that’s not all. A majority of the approved hotels on the app show they are ‘Sold out’ or have ‘No available rooms’. But when you call the hotel directly, you are told there are plenty of rooms available,”said Samya al Nuumaani, a resident of Seeb.
She observed that most of the available hotels are four- and five-star which many can’t afford for an eight-night stay.
“Moreover, when I tried contacting Sahala, I started calling at around 10am and my call was finally answered around 6.30pm. I also tried their WhatsApp number, but I haven’t got a response until now. So, I was forced to book an expensive hotel which was a burden for me just to make my cousins’ visit possible,” Samya said.
Ali Khalfan, who was supposed to reach Oman on Friday for a family visit, rebooked his ticket to make sure he was here before Thursday. However, he could not find a way to prepone his hotel booking on the app.
“On the app, it states that one will be refunded no later than a month. It takes just a click to pay for the booking, but when it comes to refund, why does it take so long? Let there be a convenient call centre 24/7 because there is a flight every hour flying into the country,” Khalfan said.
Airlines are responsible for ensuring that their passengers get confirmed hotel bookings via Sahala, giving travellers options to book hotels of their choice
“Hoteliers in Oman are law abiding citizens. With the introduction of the Sahala app, not only are expats facing the problem by way of the additional cost of hotel quarantine but also the app’s operators who are pressured by desperate expats looking for affordable hotel rooms,” said Wadi Kabir-based resident Mohammed Shakir. “The people most affected in this situation are ones like me who earn paltry monthly salaries. I couldn’t go to Hyderabad when my mother passed away as airfares were too high. Add to that the cost of multiple PCR tests and hotel quarantine. I was forced to shelve my programme,” Shakir added.
The Sahala platform was developed to connect travellers to hotels so that the whole process is ‘legit and hassle free’, according to Adnan al Shuaili, founder and CEO of eMushrif.
“During the time of COVID-19, we wanted to support the government through a digital medium. Sahala connects travellers to hotels in an easy way,” Shuaili said.
“Our call centre has been activated now to help those with queries. We have also activated live chats in the system. We had not expected a large number of queries before.”
On refunds, Shuaili said, “A refund process is already there in the system in case travellers want to cancel their hotel stays. It’s up and running fine.”
As for hotel price options, Shuaili said, “We do not have any control over prices. We are a platform to regulate the process and monitor it to make sure people go to hotels, not to regulate prices and hotel capacity.”
He said that prices depend on supply and demand. “In Oman, we have around 500 hotels. On Sahala, around 400 hotels are registered and we expect more in the coming days which will make prices more affordable.”
For the hotels that show ‘Sold out’, Shuaili said, “Rooms are actually not sold out. Once people check out, hotels need to update in the system. If that is not done, the system will continue to show as ‘Sold out’.”
He said Sahala tracks information beginning from landing in the airport to bracelet attachment to hotel quarantine.
“We take this data and give it to the concerned authorities. We work closely with the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, Royal Oman Police and Oman Airports.”