HOTELIER AWARDS 2012: IT person shortlist unveiled

Which one of these five contenders will become IT Person of the Year?

Thomas Huber.
Thomas Huber.
Roger Tabbal.
Roger Tabbal.
Mirza Ehsan Ulhaq.
Mirza Ehsan Ulhaq.
Joe Tesfai.
Joe Tesfai.
Syed Taha Mustafa.
Syed Taha Mustafa.

These five finalists will compete for the IT Person of the Year 2012 in the Hotelier Middle East Awards to be held on October 31 at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC.

Below you will find extracts and testimonials from the shortlisted nominations for each of the five candidates...

Thomas Huber, corporate director of IT, TIME Oak Hotel & Suites

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About Thomas
Thomas Huber started his career with Kempinski hotels in Berlin, Germany, in 1986. For his visionaryand practical approach towards hospitality technology, Thomas was awarded the title “IT Manager of the Year” by the Arabian Computer News magazine in 2002. After his starting his professional life in Germany with various hotel assignments and a stint on a cruise ship, Thomas joined Hilton International at the London Hilton on Park Lane in 1989. The following year he transferred with Hilton to Paris as IT-Manager and has been associated with hospitality information technology since that time. After similar IT-Manager posts at Hilton hotels in Munich and Algiers he relocated to Hilton Head Office in the UK in 1994 where he was Regional IT-Manager for the UK hotel portfolio until 1999, responsible for over 20 properties in England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1999, he had the unique responsibility to set-up the IT organization for the newly created Jumeirah group in Dubai. In that capacity he was instrumental for the successful openingof globallandmarks suchas theBurjAlArabHotel,TheEmirates Towers HotelandWildWadiWaterpark,to name a few. The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management was another successful project, applying a range of advanced technologies which were unique to the region at that time. A few years later, in 2004, Thomas joined Shangri-La at their corporate head office in Hong Kong as Director of Information Systems. Here he had corporate responsibilities for all business on property (56 hotels) and enterprise platforms. In 2008, he teamed up with Layia Hospitality now TIME Hotels Management LLC, as Corporate Director of information Technology. In this capacity Thomas is fully responsible for all I.T. related matters of the group. Creating portfolio policy guidelines, networks & systems design, green initiatives, launching the new corporate website and project management for the hotels under construction are Thomas’ major tasks at present.

Above and beyond the call of duty…
Being well known for his innovative approach, Thomas pushed the (unbudgeted) Cloud initiative through all approval channels, making TIME Hotels the first hotel group in the Middle East to fully deploy Microsoft Office365. With guest satisfaction being a key success factor for any hotel organization and the increasing needs of mobile workers, Thomas designed a range of internal training classes for guest facing colleagues. As a direct result of these sessions, front line staff can now provide guest support services better, with competence and without the need to call on IT personnel, especially after hours and on public holidays. In addition, it is an educational benefit for the TIME colleagues who have been trained and the guest comments are reflecting the results in a positive manner. Although Thomas is in charge of IT, due to his experience and leadership skills he is put in charge of a number of hotels when the Area Vice President (Operations) is away. This is not only limited to managing the smooth running of multiple hotels but it also includes managing a recent accommodation move for over 100 employees. Just recently Thomas had to host a TV cooking show on behalf of TIME Hotels including an on-screen appearance. In addition to his duties as a hotel manager, Thomas was asked by the TIME Hotels owning company, GGICO, to spearhead a major new IT initiative on their behalf, replacing most of their current platforms with new technologies. Thomas has added over 1 million Dirhams to hotel revenues, through rooms and meetings business he has personally secured.

Testimonials for Thomas
“Where does one begin to list Thomas Huber’s accolades? With his dedication to the job, attention to detail, loyalty and amazing grasp of any subject matter and insight, Microsoft cloud is just the cherry on top of his astonishing contribution he has made to the technological advancement of the company over the past years. From our department perspective it is great to be able to have instant access to all the information we need, irrespective of which property we are based at.” Olimpia Twiggs, director of sales & marketing.

“Thomas has a great ability to think out of the box and he is always open to new ideas and suggestions. For F/O he has done a great job in setting up the New Registration cards.” Shikha Arora, front office manager.

Roger Tabbal, director of information technology, Moevenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach

About Roger 

Roger Tabbal has worked as an IT manager in the hospitality industry for more than nine years. He started out as Systems & Network Administrator at the Al Bustan Hotel in Lebanon in 2003, then joined the Resort for Rotana chain for its opening at Fujairah in 2006. He moved to the Yas Island Rotana for the fast-track opening project there and then joined the Mövenpick group as cluster IT Director of Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach and Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers in April 2011. Due to a delay in the Mövenpick Jumeirah Lakes Towers project, most of his efforts were focused on the improvement of IT at Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, where he has raised IT standards, added new benefits for guests and staff, and reduced IT costs.

Above and beyond the call of duty…
Roger has used his experience to make significant changes to IT at the hotel and he quickly gained the respect and trust of his team. Some of the changes he has introduced have delivered significant cost savings for the business. For example, he changed the high-speed Internet access from shared revenue to fixed monthly fees and reduced the cost by AED 30,000 per month. Roger has not only done an excellent job in his core IT role but has also gone out of his way to assist other departments. As a native Arabic speaker, he has continually assisted the Marketing department with Arabic translation for all collateral and promotions. Having has past experience in the Front Office, he has worked several times behind the front desk assisting the team with guest requests, especially during peak season. On several occasions he has succeeded in upselling rooms by explaining all the benefits, earning compliments from one Kuwaiti guest who appreciated the upsell from a superior room to an executive room. Working with the corporate office, he implemented an e-learning website for the staff to learn WIN7 and MS Office 2010 online and receive a certificate at the end of the course. Staff can now login from any Internet location and learn the new features of Microsoft Office and Windows 7. During the pre-opening period of both Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach and Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Roger’s team faced challenges with some equipment not being brand new and sometimes not functioning correctly. He used his experience, maturity and contacts to find ways around such challenges for his team, installing a temporary shared folder and network printer/scanner and a temporary PABX system for internal communications.

Testimonials for Roger
“Roger has established himself as an extremely valuable member of Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach team, who is always willing to impart his extensive knowledge for the benefit of others & the business. Since joining MH JB he has displayed the ability to remain flexible and adaptable particularly considering his sensitivity of his position and being able to balance between two properties. Roger consistently puts forward his views towards processes, procedures and solutions which are always on the back of well thought out creative & innovative ideas. He is never hesitant to use his own initiative and thrives on the ability to be empowered to do so, although he will always ensure the key stakeholders are either kept in the loop or are consulted as and when required. He maintains positive robust relations with his work colleagues and enjoys a positive rapport with other department heads, his direct reports, the MH&R company executive, business partners and hotel owners alike as well as being widely respected by those who know him. I would like to congratulate Roger on his achievements to date and although I know he faces a very challenging year ahead I have the upmost faith in his abilities and have no doubt he will continue to add value and go from strength to strength. I wish Roger all the very best in the Hotelier award and he definitely well deserve to be selected, as he is a gentleman of fine character who brings a positively infectious energy to our team.” Horst Walther Jones, GM of Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach:

“Roger Tabbal has my full support in his nomination the best IT at this year’s Hotelier Magazine Awards. Roger has been a member of our team for over 12 months and is a dedicated and well respected member of our senior management group. Roger’s role is a ‘cluster’ position with our sister property Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, cluster roles bring with it certain challenges especially the ability to balance the needs and expectations of different teams, Roger manages this through being very well organized, clear communication and enabling others within the properties. This cluster role is further challenged with our property still in a pre-opening phase and Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach operating at very strong business levels. Roger has introduced a range of new products and efficiencies to our IT bouquet which we will benefit from once operational, at all times these recommendations were done with all key stakeholders taken into consideration, the Management Group, Staff, Hotel Owners and Guests. Roger has clear passion and a love for what he does and these positive traits rub off on those around him.” Hayden Edgtton, GM of Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Tower.

Mirza Ehsan Ulhaq, IT manager, Crowne Plaza Jeddah

About Mirza
Mirza joined Crowne Plaza Jeddah in August 2004 taking charge as IT manager. It was the time when the hotel had legacy non-standard systems running on old infrastructure. The computer users were adhered to manual practices not utilizing network shared environment. Since ever his joining Mirza started working on improving thestandards of the hotel systems and network infrastructure. Soon after joining Mirza installed high speed internet system. Based on previous experience and careful budgeting Mirza implemented HSIA at an economical cost. This addition was a plus to the hotel that the hotel started providing internet service in guest rooms and enhanced guest satisfaction. Moreover the system has become most revenue generating unit making almost SR 300,000 every year.

Above and beyond the call of duty…
Mirza believes that attending guest personally builds more confidence on the guest that he is been given full attention. He always says that internet is the most required service by the guest and if the guest has some issue he should not be kept waited. He is always there to attend the problems of guests. His busy schedule never forced him to be out of other activities. He is member for Responsible Business Committee of company’s wheel program. He remained active participant of the committee giving the direction to the members. Bringing ideas that made our hotel to be ahead in the program. He is behind organizing Earth Hour, Earth Day, IHG Race Day. The committee organized donation of clothes and other charity works. In Go4Gold, another program of the company, Mirza is appointed as Chairman. Where he lead the program by organizing events, competitions and sports. With his leadership and dedication to yearlong program the hotel achieved all three medals namely bronze, silver and gold. Mirza has done incredible job in the implementation of all the systems. He has been implementing systems from his joining. He performed all the installation very well. In the past two years he arranged several system upgrades and still working for the addition of new systems. When implemented digital signage system that is the time he showed his commitments.

Testimonials for Mirza
“We worked together for several solutions and I found him cooperative and innovative. He observes the scenario and come back with simple and suitable solution.” Jarallah Al-Malki, finance & business support manager, Crowne Plaza Jeddah.

“He is a team worker, leads with sharing allowing others for feedback. He has done several implementations for us, he was leading the projects but worked as team, listened to us and gave us what we are looking for.” Ashraf Al-Naimi, front office manager, Crowne Plaza Jeddah.

“During my work with Mirza he shows a great ways of managing changes, solving problems and making decisions and influencing others which were very clear while upgrading PMS and revenue management systems. He is very innovative, setting visions and strategy and keeping himself updated to enhance business skills and knowledge. He communicates with others effectively by building and maintaining relationships with teams and work groups.” Sherif Rahouma, area director of revenue, Crowne Plaza Jeddah.


Joe Tesfai, senior vice president – information technology, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

About Joe
Revered by many in the ICT fraternity as the veteran of Hospitality information technology in the Middle East, Joe Tesfai is the Senior Vice President – Information Technology at Atlantis The Palm Dubai and Kerzner International and juggles his responsibilities with serving as a board member for du Customer Advisory Board –Hospitality, a role he fits in as glove by lending his technical expertise on matters of innovation, staying ahead of the game and improving service offerings with the growing customer base. Among many notable accolades Joe was the first Middle East representative on the Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG), a global standards forum. Joe has amassed 20 years of experience, in the Hotel ICT industry with Executive and well as hands on expertise. A business visionary and a leader. He is very widely known in the industry and is respected by both his peers and the suppliers to hospitality IT. He is regularly invited to all the technology conferences, speaker panels and exhibitions in the region and abroad and has presented at several of them in the past 15 years. Joe, the IT veteran, with his reputation and stature is someone we all look up to. Joe has been a Senior Vice President of IT at Atlantis for close to six years now since well before opening.

Above and beyond the call of duty…
Joe has designed and implemented a state-of-the-art Disaster Recovery Site (DR Site), a concept of replicating all company data to an off-site location, necessitated by Atlantis The Palm location at the tip of The Palm Jumeirah crescent and proximity to the Arabian Gulf. The intensive project took a total of six months to complete. Joe and his team have ensured the precious company data is safe, accessible and ready to go as and when needed. Secondary to this Joe has procured and implemented a state of the art restaurant management system that delivers about 2,500 reservations per day to the numerous F&B outlets at Atlantis. Another feather in Joe’s hat has been the successful adoption and implementation of our intranet, Aquarius. Joe recognized the need for and developed a communication and collaborative portal where all the team members can quickly access information and data that is relevant to their professional needs. Aquarius is currently in its final stages of implementation and is on schedule to go live within the month of August. In this era of social media and marketing boom, this critical project will ultimately drive employee engagement scores higher by at least 5% per annum, because it will encourage an open two way communication at all times. Currently, Joe is in the final project stages of migrating all of the company servers in our large data centre to virtualised servers. This will help improve availability of business critical applications and IT infrastructure efficiency while reducing technical and operating costs such as electricity and cooling by 20% over the next 5 years. By consolidating servers, Joe is also reducing our long term IT capital and operational costs by approximately 10% in the data centre. From an efficiency perspective, virtualizing servers allows Joe and his team to provision servers fairly quickly as the business needs keep growing. This project will also position us for all future cloud computing initiatives, both private and public. Joe’s pursuit for perfection is demonstrated by his never-ending desire to improve the standards we offer to our guests. This is mirrored by the recent IT operation to increase wireless coverage throughout the entire resort and its vicinities, achieving an almost 100% coverage! This resulted in an industrial quality and robust infrastructure for the deployment of wireless point of sale system on the beach for the Sandance Music Festivals, Nasimi parties, gala dinners and weddings. During the Sandance events, Joe and his team install over 70 Point of Sale (POS) terminals to service all the bars and F&B outlets at Sandance each time. After the 12 hour event, all the technical equipment is broken down in a few hours and stored until the next event. As a result of this, we have witnessed a substantial increase in customer satisfaction and speedy service delivery, which can be demonstrated by increased JD Power scores in the customer service segment of the guest survey from 9.01-9.11. An eloquent and accomplished speaker, Joe is regularly invited to preside over many Technology conferences, panels and exhibitions in the region and abroad to much applause for the past 15 years.

Testimonials for Joe
“Joe is an inspirational leader. He is well educated on the most current cutting edge technology. He fosters a growth oriented working environment and encourages his team to constantly improve through their deliverables and individual development. Joe ensures we all work as a team and deliver the best quality service that “blows away our customers”. Joe always tells the team “We Succeed as a Team, we Fail as a Team”.” Jennifer Schroeder, director of IT resort operations at Atlantis the Palm.

“I have rarely come across a C-Level executive who is so much involved with his team in achieving excellence as a business unit within an organization. I have the pleasure of knowing Joe since the year 2003 but it is at Atlantis that I got the privilege of working under his leadership. I don't have the right words to comprehend his great wealth of experience but I can definitely say that Joe creates ‘followers’ instead of just ‘subordinates’ which is a quality of a true leader.” Kamran Changezi, IT project manager at Atlantis the Palm.

Syed Taha Mustafa, systems manager, InterContinental Riyadh 

About Syed
He joined as Systems supervisor at InterContinental Riyadh in 2001 and based on the performance he was promoted to the position of assistant IT manager during the 4th quarter of the same year. Once the IT manager was moved to the other property he was promoted to the position of IT manager with the confidence that he can handle the IT operation as of January 2002. Later he was transferred to InterContinental Jeddah where he showed his performance exceeding the expectations of the management. He was given additional responsibilities to assist other properties and was again promoted as Joint IT Manager for Jeddah and Makkah hotels of IHG in 2005. To take additional responsibilities he was again promoted as Acting Area IT Manager and transferred back to InterContinental Riyadh in 2007 as In charge of Central and Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, which has 9 properties in operation and 3 under construction. His performance is over whelming and appreciated by all the General Managers of other properties. Based on the performance and dedication shown in performing his job he was given Best Performance Award in the entire region of Middle East and Africa in the year 2008.

Above and beyond the call of duty…
He is a person who always exceeds the expectations and performs to the core. He helped the management to reduce the cost of operation and improve the efficiency of our colleagues. He is basically a person who does not say no, very soft spoken, with a very good drive for results and time management skills, can be accessed at any time. He challenged and changed the way in which the other departments usethe printing and stationary and implemented the systems, which have stopped the usage of papers to a very good extent. He introduced the network fax software, which stopped the printing of all the incoming and outgoing faxes, e-Document and workflow to automate the application and request forms, passport and ID scanning system, which is used while checking in the guests at the reception. He effectively took part in the planet partners program of Hewlett Packard and coordinated with all our departments to collect the toner cartridges to send to HP for safe recycling. He conducted several training programs related to IT, which help them in making use of systems to reduce the manual work and also helps them in self-development. He deserves to win as he is having extensive knowledge about the hospitality industry and a vast experience on the systems used in it, a true professional, very hard working, ambitious, strategic and also possesses good innovative skills.

Testimonials for Syed
“I personally believe that Mr. Syed Taha Mustafa of InterContinental Riyadh is the most favourable nominee to receive the Systems Manager of the year award for the Middle East Hotelier Awards 2012. Not only because of his years of experience and admirable work ethics. Rather because of how he manages to shoulder on his responsibilities in a very professional manner yet maintains such a warm and friendly attitude to anyone who drops by his office or passes by him in the corridor. It’s by his and his department’s prompt and swift technical support that we are able to run a smooth operation day-in and day-out. I hope that this nomination will earn him a spot as the Systems Manager of the Year, because he truly deserves it.” Anon.

“We have Software, Hardware, Malware and the Motherboard. These are the few technical terms that we could care less about. But to Mr. Syed Taha Mustafa, these words have greater meaning, a passion that brought him to where he is today, together with hard work and commitment ofcourse. I honestly believe that Mustafa has reached a stage in his career where he deserves the recognition of the Middle Eastern Hotel industry for his consistent and praiseworthy goodwill in providing us all the systems and technical support that our Hotel requires on a daily basis.” Anon.

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