x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Wildest dreams fulfilled for man who can't retire

Rotana Hotels hopes to more than double the number of hotels it operates within three years, according to its chief executive.

Rotana Hotels, the Abu Dhabi-based group, hopes to more than double the number of hotels it operates from 27 to 67 within three years, despite the economic downturn, according to Selim el Zyr, the chief executive. Ultimately, Mr el Zyr still dreams of running 100 hotels, having inaugurated the brand with the Beach Rotana Hotel and Towers in 1993. "I think it's an attainable target," he said. "You build things step by step. You don't jump in life. We started this company as a very modest company."

Mr el Zyr's first introduction to the glamour of the hospitality business was the day, as a 16-year-old boy, he stepped into the newly opened InterContinental Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut . The Phoenicia inspired him to become a hotelier. "This is the day when I thought this was going to be my business," he said, adding that he once dreamt of becoming the general manager of a hotel. "I was amazed by what I saw: the escalators, people in uniforms, limousines, drivers, the doorman, the valet. All this glitter, fountains."

Mr el Zyr attended one of the world's most prestigious hospitality schools in Switzerland and worked his way up the ranks of Hilton International. He came to Abu Dhabi as co-founder of National Hotels in 1987 and left that company to create Rotana in 1992 with Nasser al Nowais. A year ago, before the global crisis hit, Mr el Zyr was planning a long-awaited retirement. But Rotana management asked him to stay for two more years to take advantage of his expertise.

"I should have been saying goodbye to everyone," he says. "It's a different ball game now. It's a difficult period." "The hotel business in general has been affected by the recession and slowdown in travel," Mr el Zyr says. rbundhun@thenational.ae