x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ayman Gharib: World relations on a five-star scale

With 20 years experience, he has the ideal tools required not only to meet the needs of his guests at one of the country's top hotels, but also his multicultural staff.

"Management is managing people and managing is to do work through people," says Ayman Gharib, the general manager of Al Ain Rotana.

Ayman Gharib has spent 20 years working in the hotel industry and travelling across the globe. The experience has given him the ideal tools required not only to meet the needs of his guests at one of the country's top hotels, but also his multicultural staff. Essam al Ghalib reports

AL AIN // Ayman Gharib, the manager of the Al Ain Rotana Hotel, treats his guests as his friends and his employees as his family.

But the 40-year-old Belgian's charm and hands-on approach have a purpose: to ensure guests come back to the city's only five-star hotel and his staff go nowhere else.

"In reality my staff and I spend much more time together here at the hotel than with our own families," he says. "You cannot spend more time with someone than with your own family and keep away from them.

"Management is managing people and managing is to do work through people.

"You cannot do work by yourself just sitting in your office. You have to do your work through people, so you have to be with your people."

With 400 members of staff from 35 countries, one of the main challenges of running a 200-room hotel successfully is learning how to deal with his team's cultures, religions and backgrounds.

"Getting all these people from different places to work together and in one direction is challenging indeed, yet its joyful," Mr Gharib said.

An English, Arabic and French speaker, and the son of a former diplomat, Mr Gharib has absorbed the influences of numerous cultures. As a 20-year veteran of the hospitality industry, he has lived in a number of countries including Egypt, Belgium, France and the US, which has served him well.

"In the hotel business you meet people from all over the world," he says. "You can say something to someone from one country that would be viewed as a compliment, but saying the same thing to someone from another country could be taken as offensive.

"But through travel you learn so much about many cultures that you have a sense of how to communicate with people of varying backgrounds. I encourage people to just get up and go."

Mr Gharib graduated from hotel management at Cairo's Helwan University in 1991 and worked for Hilton hotels in Brussels before he moved to the Royal Windsor Hotel.

He was soon promoted to the position of director of operations and information technology within the Warwick International chain, and then left in 2004 for the UAE to serve as resident manager of Dubai's Towers Rotana Hotel.

A year later, he became the general manager of the Sharjah Rotana Hotel before he joined the Al Ain Rotana Hotel in 2008 and helped secure its five-star rating.

"At the time all Al Ain hotels were claiming to be five-star hotels," Mr Gharib said. "But when the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority began its own rating system, the Rotana became the only five-star hotel in the city."

Since he became a general manager, Mr Gharib has established Moodz nightclub, the city's largest and most popular dance venue, and two restaurants, including the Min Zaman Lebanese Restaurant, which many people would argue is the city's best.

Mr Gharib never knows what he will encounter on the job. One night an inebriated Japanese tourist showed up in the lobby at 2am, even though he was not a guest.

"He spoke no English and couldn't communicate with us," he said.

"It took almost two hours and the help of CID [Abu Dhabi Police Criminal Investigation Department] to figure out his name and where he was staying. Once we figured out where he was staying, we arranged a ride for him to his hotel."

As for guests, those in Al Ain demand a level of luxury beyond what Mr Gharib experienced in Belgium.

"One request we get from time to time is for a helicopter," he said. "I never got requests like that in Europe."

Sheri Ronquest, Mr Gharib's executive secretary, admires the way her boss has met challenges since he arrived.

"There isn't a situation that he can't handle," she said.

Another member of Mr Gharib's team, the hotel's sales and marketing manager, said Mr Gharib helped him settle in quickly.

"After meeting someone for the first time he remembers their name immediately," said Bassam Zakaria. "He's very down to earth and humble and gives everyone his time. Because of him, the morale at the hotel is very high."

One of Mr Gharib's own family members came to work at the hotel this summer - his 13-year-old son, Ezzedine, along with two friends.

"My son was charged with cleaning the bathrooms at the health club," Mr Gharib said. "I paid him and his friends Dh10 a day and they got to eat in the main restaurants and were provided accommodation.

"Like I worked my way up from the bottom at various hotels at the beginning of my career, Ezzedine has to as well."