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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Week in the life: Onboard with the 'captain' of the QE2

Hamza Mustafa has led the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner’s transformation into a floating hotel where the port of call is always Dubai

Hamza Mustafa, CEO of the QE2 ship hotel onboard in Mina Rashied. Antonie Robertson / The National
Hamza Mustafa, CEO of the QE2 ship hotel onboard in Mina Rashied. Antonie Robertson / The National

Hamza Mustafa, chief executive of Ports, Customs & Freezone Corporation (PCFC) Hotels, has led the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner’s transformation into a floating Dubai hotel.

His career includes a spell as managing director of Nakheel International EMG and major roles with iconic UAE developments The Palm Jumeirah and The World islands. The 39-year-old Emirati QE2 ‘captain’ reveals his working week.

SUNDAY

I’m a creature of habit. I’m an early riser, usually around 7am. I head to the gym. First thing I have are reports for the daily sales; how many rooms sold, the rate. I look at the satisfaction survey, what are customers happy with, what are they not. Then I have my own agenda, which I pre-plan for the whole week. What am I going to discuss? Is it engineering issues, customer satisfaction, front office? I always look at something from top down. The way I manage things is first of all remind myself, what’s the concept, what do we want to deliver? Then we need to be best in what we deliver. I don’t have amenities that hotels in Dubai have; the best pool, best beach. We’re not pretending to be somebody else. We’re the QE2, so my job is to resurrect the old QE2 lifestyle; bring back the shows, the same packages.

Sundays I spend two or three hours by myself and think about what I want to do. I’m talking to different departments. By 4pm I usually walk around - look for cleanliness, see what the chefs are doing, show that I’m around. I’m very hands on when it comes to the engineering of the ship because I have experience with engineering. There are things I incur on a daily basis that I wouldn't in a normal hotel. Usually I get home at 7pm.

MONDAY

Monday is a follow-up on what I decided on Sunday. The big idea is there - last Sunday for example I was focusing only on sales. I speak to people, issue different instructions. I’ll come back three weeks later and monitor results.

I have other projects I look at. I’m CEO of PFC Investments, we own a Kempinski, a few other hotels, but the QE2 takes up 90 per cent of my time. It’s so complicated. This is a job where I require a shower and change of clothes because I get dirty. The ship is very demanding, but she is very rewarding. It’s a new attraction, they’re all going to want to see it.

Now we have to start building our different markets. Starting this month we’ll be a semi-MICE hotel, for conferences and exhibitions. We have The Queen’s Room; a very iconic area major brands want to associate themselves with for events like launches. There are 13 books about the ship on Amazon. On YouTube there are seven documentaries just about the QE2, an engineering marvel.

Queen Elizabeth 2 at Port Rashid. Courtesy QE2
Queen Elizabeth 2 at Port Rashid. Courtesy QE2

TUESDAY

Tuesdays I usually have two sets of important meetings with my direct reportees. Everything’s an equation. For me, the entire world runs around numbers. If I tell them I want sales up, I’ll say I want sales up by this much in this much time - something achievable.

We open our doors officially in October. What’s the finalised concept going to look like? It’s a huge puzzle.

If I had built a hotel from scratch using the money we used for the renovation, and cost of buying the ship it would be the price of a good four and a half to five star hotel in Dubai. We have two full floors we haven’t touched.

As a leader, I’m full of energy. I lead by example. What makes me tick is love for the project. I’ll create a friendly environment. I’m very communicative. I’ll tell you why we need to do this. Every time we make a decision we see what is true to the QE2. This ship was synonymous and famous for its lifestyle aspects and we have to keep that.

WEDNESDAY

I take macro level ideas and go into detail, how to formulate different strategies, how I can implement those ideas. Every week is different because every week I have a different agenda.

We face difficulties because the ship wasn't designed for Dubai - it was designed to sail the Atlantic. Upgrading the AC has been difficult. The ship works vertically; a hotel works horizontally. I’ve had to adapt the way I think to fit the specific nature of the ship, balance between the hotel side and engineering side. She’s 50 years old - the oldest structure around us. Engineering challenges take up most time. I’ll put on overalls and safety gear, crawl into the duct and go see for myself. I enjoy it.

I believe in being very approachable. I spend a lot of time with the staff - 277 employees, 134 live here, on Deck 5. We came up with an idea, QE2’s Got Talent. I’ll sit down and judge. The next one is in 2019.

THURSDAY

This is the day that I recap. I have a black book, organised by week. Sunday I place the task. By Thursday I’ll go back and see if the task has been fulfilled. I’ll either pat myself on the back or get annoyed I haven’t done what I set out to do.

From the day we opened our doors, we started with a bang, full speed. We didn’t start gradually - how you should start - we’ve had one major event after another.

This month we’ll open 224 rooms, another four restaurants, our ballroom, a new theatre concept, the QE2 Spa and the Grand Lounge. The gym and pool, a private beach and a shopping complex will be ready by mid-November. The plan is, an official launch in October and then start marketing the hotel aggressively. It’s a big hotel, 800 rooms (eventually) but different to a standard hotel because you’ll have three rates - like a true cruise ship, but the port of call is always Dubai.

Queen Elizabeth 2 at Port Rashid. Courtesy QE2
Queen Elizabeth 2 at Port Rashid. Courtesy QE2

FRIDAY

Friday night I usually spend with my wife - our date night, without the kids. I have four. We go for dinner. I try not to come to the ship because I’m sitting and judging everything. Every day I’m researching and engineering and figuring out how they used to do things, to understand how to do it again or make it better. I’m looking at old drawings or looking up what they used to serve in a restaurant. Questions like, how should the waiters be dressed? Anyone who comes is coming for the essence of the QE2. It’s a fine lie between what is historic and luxury.

SATURDAY

I play golf, not as often as I would like, usually Saturday mornings with friends. Then I’m with the kids, if I’m not dragged into the QE2 because we’ve had an issue.

They’ve been to the ship a few times and always want to go into the Queen’s Suite. My daughter, who is 10, keeps thinking Queen Elizabeth used to live here. We have four former QE2 employees who worked on the ship when it was a cruise liner who work here now. They are a chef, our director of sales, and tour operators.

This ship has lived her life as an ocean liner, now it is time for her to show off her past. It’s not retirement because she’s still generating income as a living piece of history.