Guest satisfaction is all-important

IMAD W ELIAS, Rotana’s executive VP and GM, Al Bustan Rotana Dubai, talks to JONNA SIMON about the secret of Rotana’s success

Dubai always seems to be busy on both the tourism and commercial front, is Al Bustan Rotana Hotel sharing in this success?

Yes, we have very much enjoyed participating in the boom of Dubai. Our occupancy rates have increased year on year, since our opening. We are the flagship hotel of the Rotana Group and this year we are expecting to have occupancy of 85 per cent year round. We do not distinguish between seasons any more; the hotel is full even in the summer months. Our banqueting and restaurant business have also increased substantially.

Do you have an agreement with a beachfront hotel for your leisure guests?
Yes, we have just signed an agreement with the Metropolitan Beach Hotel for our guests to use their facilities. From September next year, Rotana will have its own beachfront premises – Rotana is building a 300-room hotel on the Jumeirah Beach, right next to the Sheraton Hotel.

Yours is a five-star hotel that has the advantage of being in close proximity to an international airport, does this fact tend to attract business guests to the hotel?
We are two minutes away from the airport, which helps us attract business people who are in Dubai for one-to-two days. At the same time, we are located in the heart of Dubai, as we are only a few minutes away from the shopping and entertainment centres, the Creek Golf Club and seven minutes from the Dubai World Trade Centre and exhibition venues.

Where do your guests mainly come from – the GCC States, Europe or the Far East?
The hotel is mainly a business and conference hotel. Sixty per cent of our guests come from within the UAE and the GCC states and 20 per cent of our guests come from the UK. With Emirates airline now flying daily to New York, our American guest quota has increased to 10 per cent. The last 10 per cent come from other European countries.

What has been the main thrust of your marketing campaigns in the last 12 months?
The main thrust has been to increase rooms occupied by our corporate clients, to create loyalty among this sector of our guests and to satisfy our repeat customers. Satisfying these clients, even when the city is busy, has turned out to be our best marketing tool ever.

The hotel offers some superb restaurants, including the famous Blue Elephant, which is the most popular…
Among the Western expatriates the Blue Elephant is still the favourite among our restaurants. However, many of our Arab guests prefer the Lebanese restaurant, Nawal. As such, these two outlets are equally popular.

Have you opened any new outlets in the last year?
Yes, Rotana has created a combination of a restaurant, a bar and a club called Oxygen, which has been very successful due to the fine dining, the bar and the club amenities.

As one of the most experienced general managers in Dubai as well as functioning as a regional executive vice-president for the Rotana Group, what are your views on the future of Dubai as a tourist destination, convention centre and commercial gateway?
Originally I was a little worried about the oversupply of hotel rooms in Dubai, although I was always positive about the future of the emirate because of the vision of the Dubai Government. I was recently in Las Vegas and I realised that even if the town only offers one strip (avenue), there are 1,30,000 hotel rooms, whereas Dubai only offers 38,000 rooms today!
Tourism is still in its infancy in Dubai as is the convention or MICE market, but by 2007 the MICE sector will be going strong as will the tourism sector with all the new projects under construction such as Dubailand and the Sports City, the building of Palm Islands 1, 2 and 3.

Does the Rotana Group plan to open more hotels in the UAE?
Yes, this year, we are opening two hotels on the Sheikh Zayed Road, one being Villa Rotana and the other Al Murooj Rotana Hotel, Suites and Offices. Both are five-star premises and will open this summer. Next year, Rotana is opening the first hotel on the beach in Dubai. We will also open the tallest suites hotels with 480 suites as well as a new hotel in Fujairah, a resort village with 350 rooms on the beach front.

What has been the most satisfying achievement in the last year for the hotel and you personally?
Receiving the Sheikh Mohammed Quality Award was a tremendous achievement for the hotel. Secondly, enjoying the business boom of Dubai with our occupancy rates and revenues increasing and having all our staff stay with us, we have had no resignations.

Do you have a guest loyalty programme?
Yes, we have launched a new loyalty programme called Rotana Rewards. Through the programme we offer very good prices and discounts as well as a points system. Cardholders can earn points in any of our hotels in the Middle East.

When you stay in someone else’s hotel, what are usually the main points you notice – staff, check-in facilities, restaurants?
For me the first thing is the welcome. Are they expecting me or am I just another number? Are they calling me by name? And if I get a big smile, I believe, I have picked a good hotel. But what would make me more comfortable and make me want to return to the hotel is the level of service.
If the staff is well trained, attend to my needs and really make me feel welcome, then I would return to the hotel again and again. The quality of the restaurants and the size of the rooms are important but, for me, they are not as vital as the welcome.
At Rotana, we have ongoing staff training year round from the three-day Orientation Training, which we give new staff to the ongoing skills training for all staff members. I believe this is one of the reasons for the success of the Rotana Group and that is also the case for any other top-class hotel group.