What are your first impressions regarding Erbil and the hospitality industry in Kurdistan?
Even though I have only been here a couple of months, I have realized that the Kurdish people are extremely hospitable, despite the latest unfortunate situation. They simply make you feel at home and leave you with a clearly positive impression. I believe that within the next year and for many years to come, the growth of demand for hotels is going to be much higher. The industry itself is going to at least double the amount of rooms currently in Erbil. There are huge prospects for the hospitality industry in the Kurdistan Region. We are witnessing many hotel projects all over the Region, including Duhok and Slemani, which are being planned at the moment and will be completed by 2016 or 2017. By the time the projects are completed, the market will have grown significantly, keeping everyone busy and on their toes.
I have a very important motto: “personalization in service.” We personalize every service we give to every guest at all times, and this is our success. This is why we will remain number one.
How would you define your management style?
I have an open door policy, with a hands-on management perspective. There is a saying that I believe in: “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” For me, there is no nose up in the sky. I would simply take off my suit, roll up my sleeves, get myself in action, and wash dishes if I had to. We are working for one target, which is ultimate guest satisfaction. Therefore, my style is friendliness, efficiency, fairness, and, above all, exceeding guest expectations. I also believe in teamwork, and my target is to always know what the guest really needs and do it before they even ask by involving the contributions of all the team.
Does training play an important role?
The highly competitive environment in which hospitality businesses operate today requires a skillful workforce in every organization in order to remain a successful player in the industry. It does not matter what position you are in, refresher training is continuously required. You have to do training for the staff from the lowest position to the highest position. All of them require training for hospitality, guest contact, and even English language skills to be able to cope with today’s demand. Training our staff is a must, and it will have a positive impact on our guests. That is what makes the difference.
Do you have any strategy for local human capacity development?
A core value for Rotana is developing from within, from the local community. Our main focus is seeing the Kurdish people being developed and involved more within the industry. We constantly hire local talent, and we are intensifying our training and development to see them progress forward. The Rotana careers website (www.rotanacareers.com) has successfully generated a solid database of potential candidates for us, which has helped us in the process. Our HR networking and research, in addition to the Learning & Development Department, have also played a role in employee morale and career development, as well as sustainability. Our company’s values ensure that our brand is delivered with consistency and integrity. We call it Rotana L.I.F.E, where L stands for long-term, I for innovation, F for friendly, and E for ethical. The local market responded positively to our job openings. It is true that our staff lack experience in this field, but they have exhibited strong capabilities and a willingness to learn and adapt to the 5-star environment. I think we are among the few companies with foreign investments that have managed to recruit and maintain a large number of locals.
Rotana is looking to manage a second property here in Erbil. Can you tell us about this hotel?
We have a strong belief that the Region will flourish within the next few years, and that there is going to be high demand for both hotels and furnished apartments. This idea is still fresh and one of a kind, whereas the need for it is imminent. Arjaan is new in the market and contains studios, as well as one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. It will cater to long-stay guests coming for over a month who need hotel services, but in an apartment setup. The Arjaan concept will be an added value to the Region. It is already under construction and expected to open within a year. Arjaan is owned by the same company as the Erbil Rotana, "Malia Group," which is also extremely active with plenty of projects in Slemani. Malia Group has been helping the Region flourish for many years and continues to strive for excellence.
Are you planning anything new regarding events?
Most definitely! We will be holding a festive, seasonal extravaganza starting on Christmas and ending New Year’s Day. Furthermore, we have started planning to add plenty more events in different areas, such as our spectacular theme-nights in the "Flavours" restaurant, with BBQ, Mexican, and Seafood nights. The "Friday Family Lunch" event with children’s activities has also been a successful addition. "Maki Night" in Bond, as well as "Wine Wars" events, will be added shortly and will have a great, positive effect. Most of these additions are accompanied by the fabulous Colombia singers, who add flavor to the experience. More surprises are in the pipeline for 2015, which will be an exciting year full of innovation.
How have recent events in the Region affected your business and what is your short-term forecast for the hospitality industry in Kurdistan?
Of course there was an impact on our business from the latest incidents. When the situation became negative in July 2014, Ramadan was already here and business by then was slow, as it is every year during the holy period. Investors and tourists were afraid to come to the Region without knowing how secure it was. Soon after, people witnessed the Kurdish government's solid hold on the Region and the strength of its security. The Region was under control, and it showed the world that it is safe despite what is happening within Iraq. Almost all the companies’ foreign staff has returned, and investors have started visiting again. You can observe how business has started to pick up again slowly and steadily each and every month. I believe that Erbil will boom again in 2015, but it will be better than any previous year, with more conventions and seminars.