Se­lim El Zyr: World class, with re­gional roots

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Se­lim El Zyr, home­grown hos­pi­tal­ity vi­sion­ary and Rotana’s vice chair­man, talks to HN about the re­gion’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages, the chal­lenge of train­ing and re­tain­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of hote­liers, and why the found­ing prin­ci­ple of de­liv­er­ing ‘Trea­sured Time’ is as im­por­tant to­day as ever

How do you as­sess the re­gional hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try?

The re­gion con­tin­ues to en­joy a strong rep­u­ta­tion as an out­stand­ing fam­ily-friendly des­ti­na­tion with some­thing to of­fer all types of vis­i­tors, thanks to its rich blend of cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal and mod­ern of­fer­ings. The tourism sec­tor has con­tin­ued to grow in 2018, de­spite the chal­lenges fac­ing the in­dus­try in the re­gion. This on­go­ing suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to a num­ber of im­por­tant fac­tors, in­clud­ing cam­paigns led by the re­gional gov­ern­ments to drive tourism and at­tract vis­i­tors from all cor­ners of the globe. The re­gion also re­mains an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion for in­vestors, with a fast-grow­ing youth de­mo­graphic that has ac­cess to ris­ing dis­pos­able in­come. Mas­sive in­vest­ments are be­ing made on new com­mer­cial, tourism and en­ter­tain­ment projects, such as Dubai’s EXPO 2020 and Saudi Ara­bia’s USD 500 bil­lion Red Sea coast­line project. These are also gen­er­at­ing ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the sec­tor, ow­ing to the as­so­ci­ated rise in cor­po­rate travel, and do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourist ar­rivals. With in­creas­ing num­bers of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and leisure trav­ellers, the in­dus­try can ex­pect to see fur­ther im­prove­ments across all key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors (KPIS) in the years ahead. Con­sis­tent high per­for­mance and pos­i­tive global eco­nomic prospects have set the stage for a bright fu­ture for the re­gion’s hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness.

What do you think has en­abled Rotana to stand out from the crowd and po­si­tion it­self as a strong home­grown chain?

As a home­grown brand, we un­der­stand the re­gion very well, and have con­sis­tently lever­aged this knowl­edge to adapt to the needs of our guests. For ex­am­ple, we were one of the first ho­tel com­pa­nies to in­tro­duce an ‘all-suites’ con­cept, which proved highly pop­u­lar with the lo­cal mar­ket. In ad­di­tion, the launch of our af­ford­able life­style ho­tel brand ‘Cen­tro by Rotana’ in 2006 proved a game-changer for the re­gion’s mid-mar­ket hos­pi­tal­ity seg­ment. The cal­iber of our peo­ple is also a key com­po­nent of our con­tin­u­ing suc­cess. We have over 11,000 col­leagues from more than 100 dif­fer­ent coun­tries and back­grounds, proudly work­ing for the com­pany. We also place a strong em­pha­sis on pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cals to es­tab­lish ca­reers in the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor through ini­tia­tives such as our Duroob pro­gram, which of­fers un­ri­valled op­por­tu­ni­ties for the bright­est lo­cal tal­ent in the ho­tel in­dus­try. Ul­ti­mately, I would say our be­lief in mea­sur­ing busi­ness suc­cess not only through growth and how many ho­tels we op­er­ate, but also through the value we con­trib­ute to peo­ple’s lives, is cen­tral to our suc­cess.

How did Rotana's vi­sion evolve?

Rotana’s vi­sion evolved from the shared dream of two friends. Nasser Al Nowais and I set out to cre­ate a hos­pi­tal­ity group that was rooted in the re­gion and ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing world­class prop­er­ties to the high­est of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. This ul­ti­mately led to the birth of Rotana in Abu Dhabi in 1992, with our very first prop­erty – Beach Rotana – open­ing its doors the fol­low­ing year. From there, we worked tire­lessly to grow our port­fo­lio of prop­er­ties in the UAE, be­fore ex­pand­ing into the wider re­gion. Our goal was to open a Rotana prop­erty in ev­ery ma­jor city in the re­gion, and, fol­low­ing a quar­ter-cen­tury of fast­paced ex­pan­sion, we are well on our way to achiev­ing this. Just as the UAE it­self glo­ri­ously rose from the desert to be­come a top global des­ti­na­tion, Rotana, too, forged its suc­cess story from hum­ble be­gin­nings to be­come one of the re­gion’s lead­ing ho­tel man­age­ment com­pa­nies. How­ever, the un­der­ly­ing essence re­mains the same; the prin­ci­ple of de­liv­er­ing ‘Trea­sured Time’ by pro­vid­ing a con­sis­tent ex­pe­ri­ence across the di­verse range of more than 100 prop­er­ties we man­age to­day.

Do you think that when a ho­tel is owned and op­er­ated by a chain, its chances of sur­vival in the re­gion in­crease?

Speak­ing from the per­spec­tive of a ho­tel man­age­ment com­pany, we do not own any of our prop­er­ties. How­ever, as a chain, we treat all ho­tels equally and ac­cord­ing to the stan­dards ap­plied to each of our brands. Our prop­er­ties in the re­gion are not only sur­viv­ing, but thriv­ing. This re­flects both the hard work of our ded­i­cated teams, and the high level of guest sat­is­fac­tion they are de­liv­er­ing, which sees cus­tomers re­turn to our prop­er­ties time and time again.

In what ways does Rotana’s jour­ney re­sem­ble your own?

As one of the founders of Rotana, I have seen the com­pany grow and evolve over more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury, and I am pleased to say we are still guided by the same key prin­ci­ples as when we first started out. If you look back through the com­pany’s his­tory, our suc­cess has been built on en­dur­ing part­ner­ships. It is these bonds that best de­scribe the essence of the busi­ness – sin­cere friend­ships, based upon loy­alty, in­tegrity and the de­sire to serve. Hav­ing ded­i­cated my life to the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, it is both hum­bling and re­ward­ing to see the next gen­er­a­tion of ta­lented team mem­bers across our port­fo­lio con­tin­u­ing to em­brace these val­ues – and in do­ing so, ful­fill­ing the vi­sion both Nasser and I had for the com­pany all those years ago.

As a hos­pi­tal­ity vet­eran, how are you in­vest­ing your ex­pe­ri­ence and what ad­vice do you have for the next gen­er­a­tions of hote­liers?

One thing I have learned through­out my jour­ney with Rotana is to seek out bright peo­ple with am­bi­tion, to­gether with the in­tel­li­gence and pa­tience to de­liver on this am­bi­tion. The chal­lenge is to keep these peo­ple mo­ti­vated, by of­fer­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to grow and de­velop within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I feel Rotana has been highly suc­cess­ful in this re­spect. Young peo­ple have to un­der­stand that a ca­reer in hos­pi­tal­ity is a long-term in­vest­ment. Ed­u­ca­tion is highly im­por­tant for suc­cess – not only aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion, but the prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence gained ‘on the job’. Dream big; it is im­por­tant to re­main am­bi­tious, but al­ways be pa­tient, things will come to you at the right time. Also, learn from your mis­takes. Some peo­ple are afraid to com­mit to a de­ci­sion in case it’s the wrong one. But if you don’t learn from your mis­takes, you won’t learn at all. Plan your fu­ture care­fully, and seek out an em­ployer that is com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing and nur­tur­ing their team mem­bers.

Where do you see Rotana in five years’ time?

Rotana’s port­fo­lio of op­er­a­tional prop­er­ties has in­creased from two in 1993 to more than 100 to­day. It is our am­bi­tion to dou­ble this num­ber by 2030. Over the com­ing five years, we will be open­ing 10 ho­tels per year. The plan is in place, and the knowhow to ex­e­cute it is there, so in five years, we ex­pect to see 150 ho­tels in op­er­a­tion. Our ob­jec­tives are clear, and we are con­fi­dent that if we con­tinue to man­age our growth in an ef­fi­cient way, there is noth­ing to stop us from achiev­ing our goals. We look for­ward to bring­ing our guests the world-class hos­pi­tal­ity our brands have be­come as­so­ci­ated with in more lo­ca­tions than ever be­fore.

One thing I have learned through­out my jour­ney with Rotana is to seek out bright peo­ple with am­bi­tion, to­gether with the in­tel­li­gence and pa­tience to de­liver on this am­bi­tion

34 Se­lim El Zir, Vice Chair­man of Rotana Ho­tels

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