x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Metropolitan Hotel is where the hearts are

Some of the Metropolitan's staff members can remember the day it opened, 34 years ago. For them, its closure today is like losing a home. And with the home goes family.

Concierges Luis Holly Fernandes (left) and Nicholas Tolentino during their final day's work at the Metropolitan Hotel. The hotel's closure has been compared to losing a home and family for many of its 400 employees.
Concierges Luis Holly Fernandes (left) and Nicholas Tolentino during their final day's work at the Metropolitan Hotel. The hotel's closure has been compared to losing a home and family for many of its 400 employees.

DUBAI // For some of its almost 400 employees, the Metropolitan Hotel has provided an entire livelihood, given their families a home and put their children through school.

Those employees will be leaving soon after the final few dozen guests check out of the 34-year-old hotel this morning.

The Pakistani Muhammad Khurshid, 59, is one of its longest serving employees, having joined a few months before it opened.

Mr Khurshid said one of the hardest things today will be saying goodbye to old colleagues. Eighty per cent of them will be split among three other hotels in Dubai that are also owned by Al Habtoor Group. "We may not see them again, this is the saddest part," he said.

When Mr Khurshid began working at the hotel, and moved into the workers' accommodation a short distance away where his four children grew up, its nearest neighbour was the Dubai Defence Forces base, where Dubai Mall now stands.

Work on the World Trade Centre had not been completed.

Few competitors to the Metropolitan existed: a handful of western chains near the Creek and the Chicago Beach Hotel, which has been replaced by the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab. Mr Khurshid started as a waiter in the hotel coffee shop, in his first year serving sweets to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, then Ruler of Dubai.

He rotated through the hotel restaurants for 10 years until being promoted to head waiter at a seafood restaurant that no longer exists.

After being given training by the hotel he switched to the accounts department. For 20 years he zipped around on a motorbike collecting payments from contractors.

Sheikh Zayed Road had only a few lanes at the time, Mr Khurshid recalled, and parking was never a problem.

A year ago he became senior credit supervisor for the Metropolitan and three other Al Habtoor hotels in Dubai. His salary since 1978 has risen ten-fold to Dh9,000 a month.

"We all got opportunities to come up, you know?" Mr Khurshid said. "They did cross-trainings and the management, they supported us."

Mr Khurshid, like many employees, will transfer to the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa in Jumeirah.

Most of those who will not be staying with the company have had on-site interviews with other firms or may return to their home country.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. The doorman, Shafique Nazir, 38, from Pakistan, said he had not heard what he should do after today.

Mr Nazir greeted hotel guests for more than a decade, wearing the hotel's signature black top hat with gold trim.

A new hat was ordered for him every five years from London for Dh1,500 - fitted to his measurements.

Crasto Arthur, 55, who put in 31 years at the hotel, will go home to India for two months and decide whether to relocate to the Habtoor Grand.

Mr Arthur wants to see a doctor about some back pain and maybe stay to rest at home. But he also wants the salary to put his children through school.

He hopes his son might also work for the company some day.

Mr Arthur started as a housekeeper and rose to become the assistant head of the concierge section of eight people.

He started at 4pm six days a week and sometimes stayed until 3am, fielding complaints from guests.

Losing the Metropolitan will be like losing his home, Mr Arthur said.

"We are very sad."

chuang@thenational.ae