x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Five-star task for Rotana in northern Iraqi city of Erbil

The US$55 million Erbil Rotana must import food and supplies to deliver the quality that guests expect of a five-star hotel.

Thomas Touma, the general manager of the Erbil Rotana. Lee Hoagland / The National
Thomas Touma, the general manager of the Erbil Rotana. Lee Hoagland / The National

Operating a five-star hotel in Iraq is far from easy.

The US$55 million (Dh202m) Erbil Rotana, which opened in the northern Iraqi city in December, imports up to 400kg of fresh vegetables and fruit from Lebanon each week. And every three months it flies in up to three tonnes of food and beverages because of a scarcity of high-quality provisions in Iraq.

"It is extremely difficult to find supplies," said Thomas Touma, the general manager of the hotel, which is operated by the Abu Dhabi chain Rotana.

"From technical supplies, food supplies, printing, everything has to be done remotely," Mr Touma said. "Everything has to be brought from outside, and this causes a lot of logistical problems, a lot of organisational challenges and a lot of financial complications."

Ninety per cent of the hotel's supplies come from Lebanon, and the remainder from the UAE and Europe. The hotel has five restaurants and lounges.

Operating costs rise as the management strives to protect its brand standards and deliver the quality that guests expect of a five-star hotel. But the hotel at the same time saves in areas such as employee housing because of the relatively low cost of housing in Erbil.

The hotel charges an average $230 a night and attracts only business guests - there is little tourism to Erbil - but is profitable, Mr Touma said.

"The other challenge is the human resources," he said. "Unfortunately we cannot yet rely too much on the local expertise. The hotel industry in this country is not developed, so you can't expect people to have experience in it."

Finding enough locals who wanted to learn and accept the rules imposed by a company was difficult, he said. Half of the hotel's 350 employees are expatriates from countries including India and Turkey. The target was originally to have 80 per cent of its employees from within Iraq.

rbundhun@thenational.ae