Five minutes with Selim El Zyr
Rotana president and CEO talks about his future plans
Rotana president and CEO Selim El Zyr, also Hotelier Middle East’s top ranking hotelier in the Power 50 of 2009, discusses the company’s challenges, opportunities and future plans
How was Arabian Travel Market for Rotana Hotels?
It met our expectations. People are now more accustomed to [the economic situation] — 2009 was the year of acceptance and now 2010, in spite of all the downturn and the economic climate, Dubai is doing exceptionally well. The occupancy in the first four months of 2010 was higher than the first four months of 2009 comparing year on year. The rates are a little bit down, but in general Dubai’s rates are still among the top five cities in the world.
What challenges is Rotana focused on in 2010?
The good thing is that the business is sustainable, our hotels are making reasonable profits. We are still very profitable as a company, but of course, we have to stop comparing 2006, 2007, 2008 with the future, otherwise we will be in a depression mode all of the time.
We have got challenges and the biggest challenge now is to yield the best returns for our investors, to maintain our human capital and retain and hire and attract the best human capital available on the market, and the third thing would be to live up to the expectations of our clientele, and to deliver on the promises we made.
Rotana has been referred to as setting the “benchmark” for local operators by Safir Hotels CEO Helmut H Meckelburg, especially in terms of its relationships with owners. Why is fostering good partnerships so important to you?
Rotana started and is in business because we could give our owners the best return on their investments, because at the end of the day, the owner doesn’t care who manages his hotel, he wants a company that will deliver high profits. How well we are able to do this comes from our passion. We have a passion for what we do and we take full ownership of the problems of the owner. In other terms, this hotel becomes ours. I will spend your money as if I am spending mine.
What is your view on the increasing number of hotel owners looking to use asset managers?
Some owners have asset managers because they don’t have the time, but most of our projects [we manage without the owner needing this service] — this is the attitude we have been famous for and this is a small club. Hotel owners meet and discuss [operators] and one owner tells the other, that’s why Rotana is known to be an economy driven company. We do not, just because it is your money, throw it out of the window.
What market is proving to be the most resilient to the downturn?
Lebanon has done extremely well, Syria has done extremely well, Egypt is back on track and maybe this is the best year for Egypt in the last five years, better than 2008 for example, and 2008 was an excellent year. Egypt was not affected in 2008 tremendously because of the nature of its business. The nature of the business in Egypt is that you pay in advance, you book in advance ,and you cannot change this — it is whole packages and so on. So 2008 was an excellent year, and this year we are doing better.
What new Rotana openings are you excited about in the near future?
We are opening in Dubai Amwaj Rotana [at Jumeriah Beach Residence] and Centro Barsha. Centro is a beautiful property, it is a lifestyle property. And then the second one is Amwaj which is opening around June 1 — these are the two properties opening in Dubai. We have one in Abu Dhabi opening of course, almost at the same time, Rayhaan by Rotana, a 420-room hotel that is non-alcoholic.
On that note, how has the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana been doing in Dubai?
It’s doing well. There is a niche market for that, there are a lot of people that don’t want to pay the extra of being in a hotel that has a bar and then you have a lot of Europeans and business men from DIFC that go there. If they want a drink they can go to a restaurant next door; we have right in front of it Towers Rotana that has the best restaurants and the best bar in town, so they can just go out to the metro station and cross the road.