Rotana set to open new hotels

The Rotana group is one of the fast growing hotel chains based in the Middle East. Since its establishment in 1993 with the Beach Rotana Hotel, the group has spread to 18 properties, the majority being in the UAE. TTN's JONNA SIMON speaks to Imad W Elias, general manager of Al Bustan Rotana Hotel Dubai and corporate vice president of the group, about the chain's growth and plans for the future.
Elias ... growth strategy.

Q: I would like to ask you a few corporate questions first and then concentrate specifically on the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel Dubai.

I understand, you have been with the Rotana Group for several years and are in fact also a corporate vice president. How many properties does Rotana have in the UAE? And in the Middle East as whole?

A: The company was founded in Abu Dhabi in 1993, when the Beach Rotana Hotel opened, which was our first property in the UAE.

I joined as partner, corporate vice president and general manager of the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel Dubai in September 1995 after having worked for the Hilton Hotels for 22 years in the Middle East, mostly in the UAE.

We now have 18 properties in the Middle East, the majority located in the UAE - Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah.

We have properties coming up in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt and we are going to open hotels soon in Qatar and Oman.

Scheduled for opening this year are Abu Dhabi Al Maha Rotana suites, Fujairah Rotana Resort and Oman Al Qurum Rotana Suites.

Q: Can you tell me about Bodylines and Club Rotana?

A: Part of our strategy is to create brand awareness for Rotana and we wanted to start a brand for recreation at the Al Bustan, which is currently our flagship property. A brand for the health club and for our executive clientele using our facilities.

We began with the fitness assessment programme and with special amenities in the health club, which in Dubai became synonymous with excellence. We were the first hotel to introduce male and female masseurs and first to introduce the new fitness assessment programme for executives - that is how Bodylines started. Today, it has become a brand available in all Rotana properties.

Club Rotana is a 'hotel within a hotel', our executive floors where we provide all the latest audio-visual and technical requirements needed by our guests as well as the luxury, privacy and personalized service.

Q: Can you confirm that Rotana is interested in opening hotels, when the Palm Islands project is up and running?

A: Yes, we have reserved two plots on the first island opposite the Royal Mirage Hotel Dubai. We are currently working on plans with architects and designers for the different facilities we want incorporated into the hotels, which will be boutique hotels.

Q: Can you give some details about Rotana Online?

A: The new system is operational from January 15 and everybody, whether corporate clients or travel agents in the Middle East, will have our password and can book, reserve, cancel and view the availability. Consumers throughout the world can also book rooms and can pay for it though the security codes implemented into the system as well as getting immediate confirmation of bookings.

Q: The Al Bustan Rotana Hotel is well-established as one of Dubai's leading hotels, where do your guests come from? Are they mainly from the GCC region or do you also attract Europeans?

A: This hotel is a mirror of the cosmopolitan mixture of Dubai's residents. We have guests from all over the world. Most of our clients during the week are corporate guests and at the weekends we have many GCC visitors.

The name Rotana is very familiar to Saudi guests, because it is the name of a special type of dates, very delicious, which can only be found in Mecca, this is why, our logo is a palm tree.

We have sales offices in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. We also cater to many conferences and seminars due to our location close to the airport, exhibition centres, business and shopping areas.

Q: What is the ratio of corporate and leisure visitors?

A: 85 per cent corporate and 15 per cent tourists.

Q: The hotel has excellent conference facilities, is this a market segment you intend to further develop?

A: Our chairman and president, when reviewing the plans for the hotel, realised that Dubai was moving into the conference and exhibition market in a big way. That is why they enlarged the ballroom to be the biggest in the Middle East in order to attract conferences regionally and internationally. We are seriously thinking about building another ballroom, as the demand for conference facilities grows.

Q: Al Bustan's restaurants are also well-established in Dubai. Do you find there exists different market segments among the diners in the various outlets? Or do hotel guests and residents use all restaurants equally often?

A: Our strategy, when we opened this property, was that Rotana has good knowledge of the local preferences of food and beverages. We opted to also bring people the Benihana of Miami, Blue Elephant form Brussels, Rodeo Drive from the USA and a top Lebanese restaurant.

We cater to different tastes and ages and we particularly wanted to give diners a choice. Although many new restaurants have since opened in Dubai, we have not lost any of our market share.

Q: Which restaurant is the most popular?

A: Definitely the Blue Elephant.

Q: Are you planning to open any new restaurants?

A: In the Towers Rotana Hotel on Shaikh Zayed Road in Dubai, on the 3rd floor, we have created Teatro Restaurant, which has taken Dubai by storm. It is an international outlet serving seven different types of cuisine at the same time.

Q: Are there plans for the Rotana Group to expand in the Middle East?

A: Very much so, we are looking at Syria, Saudi Arabia and we are very keen on more properties in Egypt. Our chairman's message to the employees was that Rotana wants to be represented in every major Arab city. We might expand to 30 hotels within the next five years.

If Iran or India come up. We might go there too or North Africa. Pakistan and Afghanistan would interest us - we want to be the first hotel group In Kabul.

Q: You have managed hotels in other Gulf countries. How do you view the present state of the hotel industry in the region?

A: After the tragedies of September 11, the whole of the travel and tourism sector took a setback. However, we are not going to allow these atrocities to stop our expansion and future plans.

We also feel, this is an opportunity to encourage more travel within the Arab world.

Q: Is there one segment of the market growing faster than others i.e. have you experienced the high-value Russian visitors replacing the original duty-free purchasers? If not, which market is your most important?

A: The UK market still represents 30 per cent of our business mix and the UK, German and American markets represent around 50 per cent of our occupancy. This is where we wish to maintain our growth.

We want to open offices in Australia and Japan, because we think that Dubai is the heart of business in the Middle East.