On the Vanguard tour in Bangkok. Image Credit: Supplied picture

In the beginning there was a shwarma. And then people, mostly from Twitter and Facebook, thought it was good. The shwarma became a restaurant called Wild Peeta. And then the guys behind the restaurant thought it was better. So they made a TV show, with the help of people, mostly from Twitter and Facebook -- and Instagram, and Google+, YouTube and Ogle.

Welcome to ‘Peeta Planet’, a social travel series very proudly Made-in-the-UAE, that’s all set to premiere on Wednesday (April 17) on Dubai One.

Mohammad and Peyman Parham Al Awadhi, the two Emirati brothers behind the concept, say it’s a world-first format that they are looking forward to reveal to every one.

“It’s an Emirati idea that’s going to the rest of the world. We import everything in the UAE so it’s great to have things we create here. That is the uniqueness of how the ‘Peeta Planet’ really works,” says Peyman.

Featuring 12 episodes of 21-minutes each week, the show will follow the brothers as they travel to 12 countries including Singapore, Turkey, Ireland, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and a special one dedicated to the UAE.

But here’s the twist: Almost everything they do in those destinations has been suggested by people via social media. From the people they meet, to the food they eat and even the weird and funny things they dare each other to do, the brothers have been actively ploughing various platforms and encouraging participation.

“The viewers are all directors of the show,” explains Peyman. “It’s a completely new way of filming.

“When you watch any TV show, you get to know about the show just before it’s broadcast. You don’t know what goes into production and how the show comes together. With ‘Peeta Planet’, you the viewers are a part of all of that. From the inception of the idea, how content is built, behind-the-scenes, pictures of cool stuff, everything goes online.

“So we’re essentially already having conversations around the content. It’s like you’re walking and people are walking behind you and by the time you are on air, they are with you at the same spot and saying, ‘I remember you did that. Or, I remember you went there’. You’re living it with us.” When the show goes on air this week, the social media element will kick up a notch, says Mohammad.

“There’s different content for different channels,” he says. “For TV, there’s the 21-minute episode. Once it airs, it’s going to go on Dubai One’s website and Peeta Planet’s YouTube page. Each episode is one city. Then, we’ve shot two additional five-minute mini-sodes for each city, different from what goes on air, that goes online. Over that, you have all the social media elements – from Instagram, Facebook, to Twitter.”

The idea for ‘Peeta Planet’ came in 2009 when the brothers had just finished opening their shwarma restaurant Wild Peeta. Having already used social media to develop the restaurant, with people suggesting everything from menu to décor, the brothers wanted to go on a holiday and went back to the same community.

“It took us almost nine years to open Wild Peeta and a further eight months after it was funded for us to open. We were really tired so we wanted to holiday and someone suggested Sri Lanka,” recalls Peyman. “So we took that tip and got everyone to suggest what we should do there and where we should go. That opened our eyes to the concept of social travel.”

But of course, having a brilliant light bulb moment is one thing. Executing it quite another.

“We started talking about this way back in 2009 but it was difficult convince people to put money in it,” Peyman says. “The problem was, people didn’t understand it enough to invest in it. They were reluctant. Many liked the concept but wanted to wait before they said yes.”

The brothers persevered, set up their own production company, Qabeela New Media, and eventually got Google, the InterContinental Hotels and Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 to get involved. Then, once they shot the pilot, the show was commissioned by Dubai Media Incorporated, which owns Dubai One.

“These companies had the foresight – and believed in the concept, despite it never being done before,” says Peyman.

But who wouldn’t want to visit exotic places, stay at five star hotels and turn it into a TV show?

Mohammad says ‘Peeta Planet’ is much for than that - besides it being a lot of hard work, deadlines and sleepless nights. He is part of nine-member crew which also includes full-time social media manager.

“Because of the concept, we were always on our toes. We shot 12 episodes in 72 days and working 18-19 hours a day. Some days we wake up and we don’t know where we are. And the level of planning that goes into each episode is tremendous,” he says.

“In the olden days, people used to travel via tourism websites, book packages and see the same monuments - the same bull fight in Spain or the tomato festival. They often never really connected to the city, or the real people. Then there was Travel 2.0, via websites such as tripadvisor.com, where people received suggestions from other traveller. But there again, that human connection was missing.

“With social travel we reach out to people. We build relationships with locals and really connect with the city, and then we connect people who are following us and in-turn get connected to more people. Someone out there always knows somebody else. For instance, we met an app developer in Turkey and we connected him to a guy in Ireland who does programming and coding. Now their communities will also going to connect and so on.”

As Emiratis, their role as cultural ambassadors was something they were very aware of, the brothers say.

“We wear kandoorahs the whole time. It’s also an opportunity for people to know about the UAE and engage with us,” says Mohammad. “Through the show, we’ve had the opportunity to address stereotypes and make people realise we share the same likes and dislikes – and that we are just like them.

“We were asked so many times about our headgear, the guthra. I left all of our guthras in the first few months of travel. I think we gave it to a designer in Ireland and some band members.”

Taking a short production break in Dubai recently, the brothers say they are already looking at Season Two of ‘Peeta Planet’ as they prepare to open a new Wild Peeta restaurant in Jumeirah.

“There’s more money in doing other stuff. But we just want to do something that makes us happy and something we believe in,” Mohammad says. “And social TV is the new thing. We’re trying to produce a Made-in-Dubai show and will be so proud if we can export this around the world.”


*‘Peeta Planet’ premieres on Dubai One this Wednesday at 9pm. For more on the show, go to dmi.ae/dubaione or peetaplanet.com. Follow the brothers on Twitter @PeetaPlanet