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Updated: January 20, 2013 16:54 IST

Room for more

Anjana Rajan
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All smiles: Rotana Hotels' President and CEO Selim El Zyr.
All smiles: Rotana Hotels' President and CEO Selim El Zyr.

Selim El Zyr on bringing Rotana hotels to India

People who regularly cross continents, such as business travellers, often find that there is little to distinguish one luxury hotel from another. “This is a world phenomenon,” notes Selim El Zyr, Abu Dhabi-based President and CEO of Rotana Hotel Management Corporation Limited. “We all go to the best architects of the world, and they graduate from the best schools….” Thus, he says, there is no significant difference in the hotels. “But it is in the spirit, the warmth that can only be generated by the people, not the furniture.”

Rotana, established as a leader in the hospitality sector across the West Asia region, expects to set up hotels in Indian cities soon. After some seven-eight months of talks, the CEO is hopeful that something will be signed “within a few months”.

How does a large company ensure the spirit its brand is meant to represent is retained by employees across all its properties? “This is the million dollar question,” notes the CEO. “There is a phenomenon in life. You can grow up to a certain level, and after that level you have to break down.”

He feels that hotel companies today that have, say, some 4000 hotels, have little chance of their culture percolating down to the staff that interacts with the public. “You communicate in a hotel not with the hotel management, but with the houseboy, the bell desk, the waiter, and the turnover there is very great,” he explains. At the same time, the costs of infrastructure, exposure, technology, are such that “you need size,” he continues. “So we are the right size and right age. A company of up to 100 hotels can be managed, and after that it can be broken down.”

With four brands under Rotana’s banner, he says, the company is prepared for such a break up in the future. “Hospitality is as old as bread,” he reminds us. But a company needs a philosophy and every employee “needs to hear, not only to read it.” And his company, with some 42 operational hotels and a portfolio of under 90, will take some “four or five years to have 100 hotels,” he calculates, adding, “The good thing about it is, I won’t be there, in the driving seat (when the stage of splitting is upon them).”

In India, he says, “Our plan is to have 20 hotels in 10 years. We wish to be in first-tier and second-tier cities.” With three brands ready to be introduced in India — the four- and five-stars, the hotel apartments for longer stay and the ‘no frills’ designer hotels — the company is open to starting with “any brand, anywhere.”

Aman Sachdev, the company’s senior vice president – India, adds, “About 35 per cent of our workforce comes from India.” He says there is already a buzz among them at the prospect of shifting back to properties in the motherland. The CEO is also all praise for the quality of human resources in India. “First of all education, at any level,” he enumerates.

“They are diligent, they listen and want to learn. They are hospitable by nature. There are some countries where there are rough people. This is not the case in India.” Plus, he says, Indians are ambitious and want to grow. “And the numbers are also a big advantage.”

With sporadic news of tourist numbers being hit by fears of terrorism, global recession and other factors, is this a good time for a luxury brand to expand in India?

“Definitely,” says the seasoned businessman. “India is underserved for the future.” Current occupancy figures might imply that it is well supplied for now, “but looking at the growth that India can have, there is a very big gap between supply and potential demand.” He feels that the country is “not attracting its fair share of world tourism.” This share ought to be “12 or 15 per cent,” and he states, “We feel this is going to happen.”

Besides, says Sachdev, even if GDP forecasts reflect an economy in worrying health, it is wise to begin development when the economy is on a low cycle, and “now is the time to start.”

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