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‘Our 42-hotel group will double in size in five years’

Selim El Zyr

Sydney Paulden interviews Selim El Zyr, President and CEO of Rotana

If you started a hotel company in 1992 with one property – and if you had at that time an ambition to build up a group of 18 properties - how would you feel if in 2012 you were at the head of a group of 42 hotels? And, moreover, you had another 45 in the pipeline!

One man who knows exactly how it feels is 64-year-old Selim El Zyr. Originally from the Lebanon, in his early years he studied at the famous Lausanne school of hotel management, then at two universities in the USA, worked at the Waldorf in New York and then worked his way up to the position of Regional Director for Hilton in the Middle East. Eventually, after founding a successful food chain in the Lebanon, he became Vice President of Abu Dhabi National Hotels and was able to meet a business partner who shared his ambition to found an important Middle East hotel group. Together they have created Rotana.

The first property, probably still the flagship, was Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where initially Selim took on the responsibility of General Manager.

I was able to meet Selim El Zyr at World Travel Market, where he had just been honoured with a WTM Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mr El Zyr is a man who is obviously still brimming with enthusiasm and his ease of manner is very relevant to the hospitality industry. I had no feeling whatsoever that, having achieved so much more than his target, he might now be content to sit back and enjoy his success. Achieving one aim, he immediately sets himself new and more ambitious targets.

‘We will have a managed Rotana property’, he says, ‘in every major city through the Middle East and Africa region. We are constantly being approached with offers of new hotel projects to add to our group and so we can expand rapidly whilst still ensuring the right quality to maintain our standards.

‘There are as many as 45 projects already under way, which will more than double our numbers within the next five years. We shall have our first hotel in Oman, when the 5-star Salalah Rotana Resort opens early in 2013, with 399 rooms and 45 villas. Many projects are in territories new to us, primarily bordering the Middle Eastern Region. They include hotels in Turkey and Mauritania. We are also moving into Iran and India.’ Rotana currently operates a total of 10,200 rooms, averaging up to 250 guestrooms per property.

Salalah Rotana Resort
Selim is keen to point out that Rotana is not being allowed to grow willy-nilly. ‘We do not wish to lose efficiency on the way’, he says, ‘and we want to ensure that our guests enjoy a consistently high level experience, no matter which hotel they visit. On a regular basis, every two to three years, consultants are invited in to scrutinise the way the business is being run, how we are managing it and if the administrative balance is right.’

Selim’s enthusiasm becomes positively effervescent when I ask him if MICE business is important to his plans. ‘Absolutely!’ he declares. ‘Every hotel we introduce is designed with MICE facilities. It is a very important sector of our business. At Head Office we have a Corporate Sales Vice President who has a highly motivated group of people dedicated to serving corporate and association clients.’

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