One of Oman’s top tourism bosses has helped to rejuvenate the Sultanate’s hotel sector but is also a keen supporter of animal welfare. Alvin Thomas meets him.
For most of you who are reading this, the name Leon Raphael Salinel may not instantly ring a bell. Despite that, however, chances are that Leon and his team at Oman’s tourism wing, Omran, has already affected you in some way.
Leon is the Corporate Director of Sales and Marketing for Omran’s hospitality group, which owns and operates entities such as the Atana Hotels at Khasab and Musandam, the Masirah Island Resort, the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve and the Al Hoota Caves. Despite his success, Leon is one of the most down-to-earth and humble people I have met in quite a while.
Our meeting point is the Omran offices at Al Khuwair. And with a smile on his face, Leon invites me into the conference room.
Talking to him is a breeze as he is extremely engaging. Born in the beautiful city of Baguio in the north of The Philippines, Leon spent his childhood alongside three other siblings.
“I did my schooling in Baguio, and also graduated in the field of Mass Communication from the St. Louis University in the Philippines,” he says.
But Leon’s family shifted to the United Arab Emirates permanently, and all his early jobs revolved around luxury outlets within the Middle East.
“I’ve opened a number of hotels in Dubai, including the stunning Ritz-Carlton Dubai, at the Jumeirah Beach Residency (JBR). I was working with them for about three years before shifting to the Fairmont Dubai. I was there for six years.
“However, I came to Oman in June 2015 and am very happy to be here. One thing you notice about Omanis is that they are extremely family-oriented, respectful and cultured people. And the expatriates living here embrace that. People live here in absolute harmony,” exclaims Leon.
When asked about his career choice, however, he says: “Early on, when I was young, I wanted to become a priest and, of course, that changed and I wanted to become an architect. But due to various restrictions, I couldn’t. I’ve always loved design and art.
However, Leon surprises me when he says: “I consider myself very artistic. I am actually a dancer and a singer.” Now I know why his voice sounds so mellifluous.
“When I was growing up I used to do a lot of painting and sketching, after which I discovered my passion for dancing. I began with ballet, but didn’t actually pursue it for that long.
“Then it was all contemporary and hip-hop dance forms. As you grow older you sort of start liking things like that,” he chuckles.
As the youngest of three siblings (two sisters and one brother) in his family, Leon says that his early days saw a little bit of friendly sibling rivalry.
“As the youngest child, I was very close to my mum. And my dad was very close to my eldest brother. This was a bit frustrating, and dancing and singing were ways of expressing myself and channelling my frustrations of anything and everything I wanted from my dad,” he tells me with a smile.
However, after graduating and starting work in the hospitality sector, he no longer had time for dancing and singing like before.
But, to keep in shape and still maintain a healthy lifestyle, Leon has adopted yoga as part and parcel of his daily life.
“I am a yogi,” he says. “I wasn’t into yoga until about two years ago. I was 83kg in weight and I was gaining weight. So I decided to go for an eight-week course high intensity exercise and then took on yoga after. I dropped to 69kgs.
“Practising yoga has become extremely beneficial to me. What it does is give you control over your body and you can breathe correctly, use your energy efficiently as well as think properly. It helps us live in the moment and appreciate the living beings around you.”
After taking up yoga, Leon has also become a vegetarian.
“Being a vegetarian is a part of us humans believing in and standing against violence on animals. Today, I have three dogs: a West Highland terrier and two wadi dogs, which I rescued from Oman. I have also been active member of the Omani Paws charity.
“I absolutely love dogs. And I have read a lot about dogs being shot and killed here. I feel something has to be done about that.
“I think the solution could be the T-N-R (trap-neuter-return) programme, which could help control this problem. And if you were to find a stray dog, it would be really helpful if you could make use of this programme.
As a matter of fact, Leon’s love towards animals doesn’t end there. He has provided vouchers (overnight accommodations, etc.) to Omani Paws. The proceeds from the vouchers, which are auctioned, will then go to funding for the NGO.
“I have not seen dogs being shot at. But it really happens and it breaks my heart,” Leon says, bringing our interview to a close.
He has really opened my eyes to the animal cruelty within our country. And for a man as established and successful as he is, I salute Leon for his pledged support to the small community of animal welfare activists in Oman.
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