JANELLE: Now on its fifth year, the Saudi Excellence in Tourism Awards (SETAS) announced the winners last Monday, May 11, 2015. Lo and behold, The Pink Tarha won the Best Website Promoting Tourism in the Tourism Media category. It was a mind-blowing win, at least for The Pink Tarha ladies. Imagine a blog run by expats becoming the best website that promotes Saudi Arabia as a tourism destination! We were thrilled beyond imagination. But before we gush about this extraordinary experience, let’s begin from the start of our journey to the SETAS.
I came to know about the SETAS early 2014. A former boss/mentor asked me why The Pink Tarha was not nominated. Why indeed? At first I thought that the SETAS only honors Saudi companies (not that The Pink Tarha is a company), brands, and restaurants. The Pink Tarha is not Saudi-owned. Saudi-based yes. Haha! Also, it was a bit tad too late to be nominated with the voting being wrapped up and the panel judging was about to commence. It would have been awesome though to be a part of it. The SETAS is organized by Alef International and Saudi Voyager in association with the Saudi Commission on Tourism and Antiquities and sponsored by American Express.
Fast forward to 2015… we found out that we were nominated at the SETAS. Finally! Someone took notice! Looking at the other nominees though, we were not expecting to win. As you all know, The Pink Tarha is not really a tourism blog. But while writing our “About Us” in the SETAS nominee form, I realized that hey, we can be a tourism blog after all.
It’s actually a bit hard to explain what I came up with but I pretty much summarized it as:
“Unexplored paths lead to undiscovered treasures.” That’s what makes Saudi Arabia and its capital Riyadh good beginnings to some great exploring. The Pink Tarha website not only shows Riyadh and KSA as a beautiful country through our travel entries. We also share good vibes, boundless energy, and optimism that make people really want to visit (and sometimes, stay). We’ve been promoting KSA, mainly Riyadh where we are based, to fellow expats for six years now and it’s an honor to be nominated in this year’s SETAS. And while it’s true that a journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step, we believe that a journey to Saudi Arabia begins with The Pink Tarha, the online lifestyle guide that sees and celebrates the good life in KSA.
There was supposed to be an Arabic version of that in the form but er well, I have no idea how to translate that to Arabic. I was tempted to use Google Translate but you know how it is. The translation might be saying another thing for all we care haha. Anyway, we submitted our form without the Arabic version.
You know what makes a person go to a place? It’s the tourist spots and places that entice the tourists. Saudi Arabia has them but there’s no tourist visas readily available for people outside the Kingdom. So who do you consider as tourists in KSA? The people who already live here. They’re also probably the hardest to convince to go and explore Saudi Arabia. Don’t deny expats! Haha! Most of us come here to work and usually have the routine house-workplace-house. We are always bored and homesick; always comparing the ‘weird’ rules of Saudi Arabia to our home country. But throughout the six years we’ve been blogging, we’ve seen a ‘let’s go!’ revolution in Riyadh (okay, I made that up). People are now more outgoing, always looking for the next ‘gala’ (outing, even if it’s just in the malls) and adventure. Of course we’re not saying we’re to be fully
blamed attributed to this ‘change’ but we think we’ve helped make it easier to go out and enjoy despite of the restrictions. Did The Pink Tarha make Riyadh (and parts of Saudi Arabia) enticing enough to visit? Maybe. We’re pretty sure we showed Riyadh as a bustling city and not the desert that people have always been envisioning. Seriously people, it’s 2015!!! We do not ride on camels to work! Haha! That, or the impression that since Saudi Arabia is full of oil and gold, people in Riyadh might be swimming in money! Hmn, that might not be so farfetched to some haha but we pretty much live normal lives around here.
Through our entries, we’ve actually been promoting Riyadh and Saudi Arabia! (Though of course we didn’t know it at first.) In a tourism website, it’s not enough to show the beautiful photos of a place and put descriptions on it. Sometimes, it’s more important to share real-life experiences in the place. Did we just make Riyadh a hip and happening place?! Who knows? Haha!
The SETAS is composed of six major categories and 37 sub-categories. The SETAS website is open for a time to voting. The public can vote! (Public=anyone with an email address) Remember the time we asked you to vote for us? Thank you very much for those who did! For those who didn’t…
how dare you haha we understand. Hahaha! After a few weeks of being open to public voting, the website was closed and the judging by a panel of men and women who have made their mark in the tourism industry. Media consultant Mohammed Al-Osaimi heads this year’s panel of judges. He has over 25 years of experience in the PR and media sector. The other distinguished judges include Abdullah Al-Jehani, special advisor to the president of the SCTA, Khaled Al Maeena, former editor-in-chief to Arab News and Saudi Gazette, Ron de Pear, global development director of media consulting company ECI, Sarah Baghdadi, member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, Antony Lawrence, managing director of Latitude, Ibrahim Alsini, dean of the Tourism Insitute of KAU Jeddah, and Dan Cross, regional head of sales of JacTravel. We got weak in the knees reading their portfolio. Do we really subject The Pink Tarha to this?! Uhmn YES! Haha.
In March of this year, we received the invite to attend the announcement of winners ceremony. We were really giddy with excitement! Until they cancelled the event a day before schedule because of some security concerns. We were sad but we understand. The next email we received early May is the email that said WE WON!!! Yes, we found out days before the awarding ceremony but we couldn’t announce it as we have no proof. Hahaha! We waited fervently for May 11 to come.
And the day, ladies and gentlemen, finally came… I’ll let Reina handle the story from this point on as she was the one who attended the SETAS Awarding Ceremony…
REINA: That morning, Janelle and I were still under the impression that both of us would be attending the SETAs. In fact, we were both donned in skirts in the shade of pink and had above-average hair and make-up that morning in anticipation of the event. But because The Pink Tarha was also selected as one of the exclusive attendees of Club Apparel’s Celebration of Womanhood, she had to be whisked off at the very last minute (to DUBAI, mind you) and since between the two of us, she was the one who had a ready exit/re-entry at hand, I was left to accept the award in The Pink Tarha’s behalf.
When I reached the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, I wondered where all the cars of the attendees were. I was actually second-guessing myself as I was walking through the paved path to one of the museum’s entrance doors. Are you sure this is the place? I thought to myself. As it turns out, I walked in through the other side of the event’s location and ended up causing a bit of a scene as I pushed open wide the doors and have over a dozen Saudi men looking surprised to see me. Talk about making an entrance, eh? Surprisingly enough, it looked like a real, major event. I was under the impression that we would just go there, take our trophy and a photo then leave (as per the indication in the email they sent earlier). But no, there were arranged seatings, a stage with the background, and it seems that a very important person was due to arrive as the security beefed up in a matter of minutes.
I was met by one of the representatives of Saudi Voyager and he ushered me to the registration table to take our trophy already. At that point it was all a rollercoaster of emotions because 1) I was nervous to be there on my own and I was the only Filipino there (a Filipina no less) at least if Janelle were around, it wouldn’t feel as nerve-wrecking; and 2) there’s a bit of fireworks exploding in my brain because of the senses it triggered when I held the award and read the words: “Best Website in Promoting Tourism…www.thepinktarha.com” (!!!!!!). I had to stay focused for the next five minutes because I was in line for the official photographer on their photowall and I wanted to make sure I didn’t look like a happy puppy in their official event photos (had to remember to stay poised and that I was representing The Pink Tarha).
After having my photo taken, I was instructed by one of the ushers on how to conduct myself when the guest of honor, HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud hands me the trophy. Apparently, even though I already had the award in my hands, I would have to wait until the ceremonies start and our name is called. I was to go on stage, hand my trophy to one of the ushers for them to hand to Prince Sultan and then Prince Sultan would hand it back to me and we would pause for a while for the photographers to do their job. Yes, that’s Saudi Arabia for you but I was too full of emotion to care about the hullabaloo. After hearing my final instructions, I headed to the female’s seating area and eagerly sent Janelle photos of the award with my trembling thumbs. By that time, she was already en route to the airport and I can imagine her shrieking in our virtual conversation of what was going on.
Finally the Prince arrived and things got in order very quickly. However, the entire ceremony was done in Arabic. So I had no clue what part or category was being awarded and just had to rely by ear to know if our name was to be called. Soon enough, the words “The Pink Tarha” echoed in the room and I was giddy to make it up to the stage with our award in tow. I was intent on following the instructions and I didn’t realize that there were so many photographers in front of the stage. Still not trying to look like an uber happy puppy, I managed to smile politely at Prince Salman as he handed me back our trophy and we smiled for photos.
I wasn’t allowed to stay on stage like the rest of the nominees because I think it’s a gender separation thing, so the other ladies who were with me in our table immediately left after they got their award. Meanwhile, being the Filipino that I am, I made sure I stuck around long enough to finish the proceedings so that the men would eventually all leave and I could have more “Kodak” moments (as they say). Luckily, there were a few other guests who indulged me and helped me out in taking photos.
One by one, the attendees drifted out and soon my driver arrived to bring me back to the office. As I was walking out and carrying this huge trophy case with me, I can’t help feel anything but gratitude and wishing that Janelle were there because she was the one who has worked more for this than any of us who have been a part of The Pink Tarha. When we finally met again after her trip to Dubai, I sort of re-enacted the awarding (in English, of course) and called THEPINKTARHA.COM once again and handed her the award. Our officemates served as our mini-audience, complete with the applause and all. Afterwards, we took our selfie together with the award to post on The Pink Tarha’s Facebook page.
We have so many things that are going on in our hearts and minds right now and we decided that we’ll dedicate a separate post regarding our reflections and thanks for this unbelievable chapter in The Pink Tarha story. Thank you all for being a part of it — for reading the story and for being a part of the story — we raise this award in honor of YOU!