Interview: Imad Elias

28th Feb 2008
Interview: Imad Elias

Rotana Hotels opened its first property in Abu Dhabi in 1993 and has quickly become one of the leading hotel management companies within the Middle East. Breaking Travel News caught up with Imad Elias, Executive Vice President & COO of Rotana to find out more.

BTN: Five properties have been announced in Dubai for 2008. Can you elaborate on these?

Rotana Hotels currently operates more hotels in Dubai & Northern Emirates than any other single operator and the five scheduled openings will only increase the company’s stronghold further. In 2008, we will be opening a total of seven new properties across the board.

In March 2008, Rotana will open Media Rotana, a four star plus deluxe hotel located at the heart of Dubai’s business hub. Then we have the Rose Rotana, a soaring 72 floor tower structure, 333 metres high with 480 luxurious rooms, suites and penthouses which opens in April 2008.

The next Dubai property, scheduled to open in June, is Rotana’s first resort in Dubai, Amwaj Rotana Resort. The second quarter of 2008 will also see the completion of Al Sufouh property and finally, in the last quarter of 2008 we will see the opening of The Cove Rotana Resort & Spa.


BTN: What is the corporate vision for Rotana Hotels in the next five years?

Rotana’s strategic aim to have a property located in every key city in the Middle East and this goal is being steadily achieved through careful long-term planning and timely action. Our vision is to be the leading and preferred hospitality management company operating hotels, suites and resorts, within the Middle East.

We currently have a portfolio of 60 properties in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, Amman, Oman and Syria, out of which 24 are already in operation. As long as we are able to manage our growth in an efficient way then we will take further properties. In addition, we have committed to have 25 Centro properties within the coming 5 years.

As long as we are able to manage our growth in an efficient way then we will take further properties as we are extremely cautious on expanding strategically and efficiently.

BTN: What is the strategy for conference/meeting part of the business? Can you provide figures regarding percentage of this business for each country in the region?

The MICE business is an increasing segment throughout our properties and destinations in the Middle East. The approximate current percentage of MICE business is 12% in Egypt, 14% in Abu Dhabi and 25% in Dubai.

MICE Business relies not only on the property’s offering but also on the destination itself. In Egypt, we are forecasting or in fact working on increasing the MICE business within the coming 2 years to 20%. Sharm El Sheikh is emerging as a conference paradise and our 5 star luxurious resorts, the Grand Rotana Resort & Spa boasts some of the most hi-tech modern facilities combined with the resort’s exclusive services, making it the perfect place to host meetings providing both business acumen with rest and relaxation.

In Abu Dhabi, the increase will be very significant; up to 30% and this is due to the initiatives taken by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to promote the destination for MICE. Hosting important exhibitions such as GIBTM assists hugely in the overall tourism development taking place and plays a major role in nurturing further growth in this sector. Rotana manages a leading property in Abu Dhabi; the Beach Rotana Hotel & Towers which is a city conference resort and indeed a great attraction to MICE.

In Dubai & Northern Emirates, Rotana has over 90 meeting / conference rooms with over 14,000.00 sqm2 of meeting space. This segment is tremendously increasing and the destination is certainly playing a big role in this increase, which is encouraging us to further focus on this segment.

BTN: Where do you find concern for overbuilding and where is there new untapped potential for hotel development in the Middle East and Africa?

According to the World Tourism Organisation, the global tourism market is expected to more than triple in size from 565 million visitors in 1995 to 1.6 billion in 2020, which is indeed impressive. They suggest that growth will be driven by the Asia and the Middle East.

Tourism in the Middle East enjoyed an unprecedented boom in the previous 3 years. Hotels in the Gulf countries had significant increase in occupancy and average room rate. Hotels in the Levant are re-bouncing despite the challenges and the events that followed September 11 have encouraged regional tourism.

With additional entertainment and leisure facilities being developed, it will only continue to grow. The Middle East Travel & Tourism economy is expected to have accounted for 9.7% of GDP and to 4.6 Million jobs. It is expected to continue its healthy growth of 4.5 to 5% annually over the next 5 years. Travel and Tourism in the UAE is expected to have generated around USD $ 26353 Million in revenues accounting to approximately 12.1% of GDP and providing around 300.000 jobs. It is expected to grow at an average of 6.5% per annum.

With regards to the untapped potential, Rotana launched in December 2005 Centro by Rotana which is developed to meet the demands of the new generation of travellers, who seeks both finesse and functionality at reasonable rates. Centro is coming at a time that will ideally position it for continuous long-term development, strong operating performance and sustainable growth well in to the future and as mentioned previously, we have committed to have 25 Centro properties within the coming 5 years.

With tourism and business traveller in-flow on the increase Rotana is uniquely placed to meet their needs. Our product offering is exceptionally strong, our properties are in the right locations and our level of service much sought after. Don’t forget we are focused solely on the Middle East, and have concentrated our efforts in that direction, we know the region better than anyone. We have already achieved a great deal and 2008 will see us further solidify our position as the regions operator of choice.

BTN: What is the progress made on the Centro brand?

Our first Centro property will open in the first quarter of 2009 and we have a 5 year plan to open 25 properties across the Middle East. And as the name suggests, the location of choice for a Centro property is at the heart of a business or commercial district, primarily in the major cities across the region.

Rotana and LWD have worked very closely in order to take the Centro concept from its conception stage to a fully developed bespoke operational design. This design is flexible and can thus be very quickly adapted to suit the individual requirements of various locations and their specific build regulations, whilst maintaining the uniqueness of the essential and unique elements of the Centro concept.

Centro hotels will be highly distinctive, expressed through their contemporary architecture and unique living space. Every element of the Centro concept has been fully and thoroughly researched - from the fundamental principles of guest service and operations, to the design of a unique property formula.

This has resulted in a new, highly efficient operational model, which provides essential amenities and necessities specifically geared to the travelling executive. Standard guest rooms at Centro hotels are approximately 21m2 - great care has been taken to optimise room configurations and styles. Every Centro property will have as its focal point a large lobby lounge, abuzz with activity yet designed to provide a number of informal zones for business gatherings and entertainment.

BTN: The Zen Spa is your own brand – what sets it apart?

Our Zen Spa at Rotana facilities reflect the 5 star status of our hotels. Extensive thought and attention to detail has created an environment with a unique ambience. It is not just our facilities that differentiate us from other 5 star Spas in the region but also our unique Zen service delivery and guest experience provided by our Spa team. Our Zen concept derives from Holistic Asian philosophies with an added Contemporary twist.

Rotana focuses on the needs of the clientele staying in our properties and we try to introduce what our guests suggest, and to an extent follow overall industry trends.

We are expanding at a phenomenal rate and because of this our resources are well focused on what our future clientele will be seeking. Based on our experience Spas are becoming far more in the Middle East which, when coupled with what our clients say, has led us to begin introducing them into our properties.

The first two spas that opened are; at the Grand Rotana Resort & Spa, Sharm El Sheikh and at the Beach Rotana Hotel & Towers, Abu Dhabi. Those will be followed by Zen the spa at Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa which will open mid 2008.

The direction we are going is to include a Spa in each of our 5 star Resorts and Hotels.

BTN: What is competition like for adding management contracts now that more global brands are penetrating the region?

We cannot consider that all Middle East Hotel brands have higher potential or else we would be pretentious and biased! The Middle East in general is known for its generosity and hospitality and this is evident within the hotels. Similar to some of the Asian hotel chains, they have their own unique touches, which reflect their geographical and traditional status.

The “authentic” Middle Eastern experience of Arabian hospitality and generosity that it’s known for is very much evident in destinations such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria… to name a few. It is probably at its most authentic when the guest is served by staff that are from the country itself. For this reason, Rotana Hotels focused on local talent in each of the Middle Eastern countries where we have properties. In the UAE, for instance, we will be launching a special program, which aims to open new career horizons in the hospitality industry for UAE Nationals and to provide them with an opportunity to work with the private sector with a full fledged training and development program to gain valuable first-hand work experience. There are no better people to run the tourism industry in the UAE than the Nationals themselves, they know their country and they can see the potential of growing with it.

On another note, Rotana Hotels focuses on the needs of the clientele staying in our properties and we try to introduce what our guests suggest, and to an extent follow overall industry trends.


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