Hospitality Management Holding, Hotel and Tourism Organization in the UAE

Mohamed Elkahla, Director of Business Development of Hospitality Management Holding The Emirates is a growing market and has all the components for success: oil, trade, and UAE tourism. UAE Tourism is actually the largest sector now. It is growing and there is demand here in the geographical situation of the UAE; it is between the West and the East, which makes it very attractive, you know. If people are traveling from, let’s say, the Far East and Europe, Dubai in particular has become like a hub; it’s the capital for commerce, tourism, and trade.

The tourism industry in the UAE is experiencing unprecedented growth. According to the World Travel and Tourism Consul, there is a projection of 14% growth in 2008. So how do you assess the tourism industry and what are the competitive advantages of the region of the UAE.

The Emirates is a growing market and has all the components for success: oil, trade, and tourism. Tourism is actually the largest sector now. It is growing and there is demand here in the geographical situation of the UAE; it is between the West and the East, which makes it very attractive, you know. If people are traveling from, let’s say, the Far East and Europe, Dubai in particular has become like a hub; it’s the capital for commerce, tourism, and trade.

The second thing is that the UAE is situated in a politically complex region. We have an unsettled situation in Iraq, we have no clear program in Iran, we have upcoming US elections…So what are the geopolitical implications on the UAE and the tourism industry in particular?

I have lived in this part of the region for a long time, for almost 20 years now. I came for one year and then just continued. During this time, I have seen that in spite of whatever happened from say the Gulf War and the Iraq War, this region always benefits, it’s really not instability here. The instability of the region somehow makes this area benefit, because it’s like a link for trade, and the UAE became like a center. If anyone is going to do business with these areas, it has to pass through the Emirates. I’ve seen all these years that in spite of the Middle East having political instability, Dubai or the UAE in general is growing and growing rapidly because they are focusing on trade and stability locally and that’s why they are benefitting.

So is it about the location or is it also the governmental policies?

First it is the location that helps. Second it is the vision of the leaders, you know, they are not getting into wars or whatever. You can see that it i stable and it is a place where everyone can be and start business, and can work peacefully. This is what makes the region, the UAE, grow very well; people are confident to invest.

About the sustainability; the UAE has often been criticized for its sustainability policies, and you as Coral International are a very environmentally-friendly hotel. You are launching the ECOS initiative, the ecologic and economic brand, and also you are participating in a number of ecological programs. So how would you assess the ecological situation and environmental situation on the UAE level? Are they doing intiatives?

I think there are a lot of programs now, because it’s developing rapidly. By 2015 they have a plan to convert Dubai into a green area. For example, if you go between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there is a complete zone which is a green zone; that was a program of the late Sheikh Zayed who launched an environment award. I can tell you, the number of palm trees in the UAE is more than the population! There are 14 million palm trees in the UAE so this is a record as well, and this is mainly in Abu Dhabi, in Al Ain which is part of Abu Dhabi.

What are particular programs your hotel or your group is doing?

When it comes to the environment, first we are trying to create awareness among parents. We are doing like a children’s painting competition on a yearly basis. First it was only attended by the local schools in Sharjah, and after that all the schools in the UAE are participating, with more than 100,000 parents. Examples of our themes include “Just A Drop” or “Go Green;” the last one was “Save The Planet.” My colleague has all the posters for those campaigns and details, which we can show you, used to create awareness among children and parents so that kids are aware from a young age what the planet is going through. On our end, we started with things like no alcohol, so that’s also a friendly environment; no smoking, we have some floors which are non-smoking, and now according to new government policies most of the hotel’s public areas, like the lobby, and the restaurant have no smoking at all, so we are complying with these things.

Hotel Coral and the Management Group was established in 2003 and already you have launched multiple other brands. It’s a really diversified portfolio. Now you are managing eleven hotels, eleven properties and you have 32 under development. How are you achieving this and also, aren’t there problems with quality and growth?

We have some professional people like Mr. Noblet and his inspiration and experience of 35 years in the hotel industry especially with the Meridien. The team is made up of all different professionals with practical experience in different fields. While launching the company just four years ago, it was just my hotel; it was like a blank piece of paper and the project had just started, and over the course of the years, while you are in the business of developing to a hotel chain which is local from here, we have all those brands that came up due to different requirements. You know, the clients are different; everyone has different needs. So we have the brands that are Coral International for managing properties, like four or five star hotels and resorts and spas. Then we created a brand which is Corp, which is for the executive of business traveler. Business travelers have different requirements that people who are coming for leisure. They need more internet access, a laptop in the room, and you can see that in a property we created which is next to the Emirates Mall. These are the different elements. We are also working on another brand which is ECOS, which is ecological and economical, so it has a combination of both. The design concept has everything ready but the first property will be ready maybe by 2009 or 2010; it will be in Dubai Land, so everything is ready. We also realize that we have some people from the GCC who are traveling as families, so they have different requirements. They want to stay not in hotels but in apartments so they can have the whole family under one roof. We have a couple of hotels ready which are in Saudi and two or three coming up in Dubai or Sharjah. What you see now is more hotels on a five star level, so it’s like an upside-down pyramid; you have more hotels on five star level and less on three star, two star, or one star. Not everybody can afford a five star, especially with the resorts, so that’s why we came up with those brands. People say we work in a destination, and have gotten feedback that Dubai is expensive, so we need to come up with a product which people can afford and can continue to visit Dubai without spending too much. So Dubai can always be affordable, and we came up with this brand called ECOS, where the average room you are looking for is maybe $80. This concept is also good for the investors because you can have a return on investment in the first five years.

Could we say that your first four years of operation were successful?

Yes, I can tell you they were very successful and we will continue because we are different all along. We not only created these brands, we have created along with this so many other things. First, we now have our own brand for spas, it’s called Murjan Spa, and for gyms we have our own identity called Gym and Toning. There was a need for corporate companies, especially multi-national ones and the successful companies for team building because they have at a certain level executives or chairmen or directors in different divisions who are not talking to each other. So we have created a brand which is called Tadreeb. We have two actually, the first was so successful that we created another one. One is in Ras Al Khaimah and one is in Aldib. Tadreeb is used by multi-national companies to get their executives and directors together and for training. This training can be physical and theoretical and it’s linked to the company objectives and vision and mission. Most of the companies that are using it are benefitting tremendously out of it. Now, I can tell you that the most challenging thing for every hotel manager or hotel chain is staff retention, because there are many hotels opening and at least 30% of the staff just want to get the best elements from the existing hotel or operating hotel. So the challenge is to keep your staff. So in view of developing and taking care of our people we have in our vision as well to train our people a minimum of five hours per month and we have created Dubai Training Center, which is under charge of our company. So we train all the employees for all the hotels in this training center and we have all kinds of different topics. Some are theoretical and some are physical. And if you have a new hotel opening, everyone will come to this training center, they get all the necessary training and they follow it up with practice to get them to put into practice what they learned theoretically. This will definitely lead, in the next couple of years, to having our own hospitality institute. So this is in progress. We also want to be an effective member of the society, so we are not only just making money or whatever, but we also want to develop the people. We are looking to get maybe some locals or nationals to study and be in this field as well. It will be the same as the Hospitality School of Jumeirah.

Coral is a relatively new chain and you have been developing the brand name and there are about 42 five-star hotels, many of them multi-national, strong brands. How do you compete against them? One of the things is training, I’m sure.

It’s training and also we try to employ the right people at the right place. And in the market, we are operating in the same way or however they operate but with more dedication. We have more dedication and are more realistic. We know that we are a company which does not have alcohol, so we know our niche market. The business is that everyone has different requirements, and we know who our clients are. And now people are coming to us; within these four years we have made an impact. They see how we operate, from the first properties we have, and that gives us a very good lead because we are regional and we want to be stronger in the region; we want to develop more in Saudi and after that we can grow very quickly abroad. But first we will focus within the region of the GCC and then Africa or maybe the Far East and expand slowly.

You said you know your customers, so tell me more about that. Who is your clientele?

Our clientele is all families, when they travel, we would like to become their first choice as a five star hotel with no alcohol. We have corporate clients as well; we can attract all corporate clients and conferences because we have the facilities, because if you take the element of alcohol, it is not required for a conference and the companies are not keen on having alcohol during their conferences. So these are possibilities. We can be leisure and business as well.

For the future, what are the plans in five years time; develop a global brand?

Yes, in the future we need to have a strong presence here, we would like, for example, to have the largest number of rooms of any international chain within this area. We want to be recognized here more, so that when we go abroad we can know for example the GCC travelers, where do they go; if our brand is familiar to them and they know it, when they go abroad, this is definitely the hotel they will select automatically. So this is what we hope for, some presence here and after that we can spread.

What are your personal ambitions within this chain?

My personal ambition is that I want to see this chain growing and growing, to have more hotels, and we want it to be really successful, and I will not spare a single effort to make it the best.

You were the director of this hotel before, and now you have grown and it’s a new challenge. How do you feel about this, in relation to what you want to achieve?

In the hotel industry, I don’t feel that I am new in the position of business developing because our system here is that everyone is a developer. If you are a manager or a sales person, everyone is a developer, and every employee in the hotel is a sales person; whether in the back or the front, everyone is selling. We try to get each and everyone to master more than one job. So being in developing is not new for me; from when I first joined the company I was initiating the negotiations for all the developing the company was doing, and now I have this as a full time job, I think it is very interesting and that is why I am really optimistic that we will have more hotels very soon, more than what we planned. We have a very good leader, Mr. Michel Noblet, and we work as a team and it’s enjoyable. You work and enjoy it. You don’t feel the way you would with nine to five jobs or whatever. It’s really pleasant and we enjoy what we are doing.

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