Metropolitan spreads wings

UAE-based Metropolitan group of hotels is working aggressively to spread its wings in the region. The group operates four hotels in Dubai and properties in Lebanon and the UK. TTN's JONNA SIMON speaks to Metropolitan Hotels International chief executive Rahim Abu Omar about the group's plans for the future.
Abu Omar ... new deals.

Q: Just for the record, can you specify which hotels you are in charge of?

A: Yes, in Dubai I am in charge of our flagship, The Metropolitan Palace Hotel, The Metropolitan Hotel Dubai, The Metropolitan Deira Hotel and The Metropolitan Resort and Beach Club. Then there is The Metropolitan Palace Hotel Beirut and The Monkey Island Hotel in the UK.

Q: Is the Metropolitan chain currently planning any new properties in the Gulf, Middle East or any other region?

A: The Metropolitan Group is aggressively seeking new management contracts and we are presently looking at two management agreements in Saudi Arabia.

Q: Are there any plans for new restaurants in the existing hotels.

A: No, not during this current year. Our hotels have a fine selection of restaurants, particularly The Metropolitan Hotel Dubai where we offer the largest variety of outlets. We are doing some renovations in some outlets. For instance, at the Miwako Japanese Lounge restaurant at The Metropolitan Hotel Dubai.

Q: The Metropolitan Group is one of the major hotel chains in the UAE offering both business-oriented and beach resorts. With the impact of the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the US, have both types of hotels experienced a downturn in business? Or is everything back to normal?

A: Our beach property was affected most severely, but already in December last year, we saw occupancy rising again, although ARR is still lower compared to the previous year at the same period. The trend today is encouraging and we expect our hotels' business will be back to normal by March.

Q: Which is the most important country for attracting guests to the Metropolitan Hotels?

A: The mix is very varied. The beach resort mostly receives guests from the UK, Germany and other European countries. The Palace hotel has guests from the GCC states as well as corporate guests and tourists from other countries. The Deira hotel mainly caters to German and GCC clients.

Q: Are you introducing new innovations or enhancements this year?

A: Yes, we are opening offices in Riyadh and Jeddah and we have now online reservations through the web. New in our system is the loyalty programme, where members can check their statements and redeem points through the Internet.

Q: Will the Metropolitan Group participate in overseas exhibitions such as ITB - if the answer is yes, do you feel that Dubai is becoming more popular as a business/tourism destination?

A: Yes, Metropolitan will be going to ITB 2002 in Berlin, as we feel such shows are great exposure for the group. Over the years, Dubai has become more popular, proof of that is the emirate's scoop in securing the IMF and World Bank meetings in Dubai in 2003.

Q: Competition continues to be tough in Dubai with new hotels such as the Dusit, Fairmont and Shangri-La. How do you see the future of Dubai's hotel industry?

A: Yes, competition is very tough in Dubai, but we are optimistic about the future here. The Dubai Government is doing an excellent job in promoting the city, which will continue in the future. Hopefully the competition will result in hotels in Dubai offering good value for money and not any lowering in the standards of service.

Q. Does the Metropolitan group have plans for hotels on the two Palm Islands?

A: No, not at the moment.

Q: As one of the well-established hotel groups in Dubai, do you receive many repeat visitors to your hotels? And are they visiting business people or holiday makers? Approximate ratios?

A: Yes, we have many repeat visitors to our hotels. At the Metropolitan Palace Hotel last year, we enjoyed 35-40 per cent GCC repeat visitors. The ratio for guests at the Metropolitan Hotel Dubai was 51 per cent corporate clients and leisure 24 per cent.

Q: A few personal questions: How long have you been in Dubai?

A. 23 years.

Q. When not a hotelier, do you have any hobbies or sports?

A. I do not have a specific hobby, I always seem to be a hotelier.

Q. Which is your favourite vacation country?

A. Since it is difficult for me to go to Palestine due to the ongoing situation, Jordan is now my favourite holiday country.

Q. Do you have a preferred hotel anywhere in the world?

A. Whenever I travel, I try to stay in different hotels in order to observe and experience new hotels and procedures.