Nasser Al Nowais receiving the award
Mr. Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman of Rotana, the leading hotel management company in the Middle East and Africa, was presented with the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ during the 7th Annual Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC), on the 1st of May 2011 in Dubai.
Al Nowais was chosen by the AHIC Advisory Board, made up of fifty hotel stakeholders, key investors and governmental representatives from across the Middle East and Africa.
“I certainly feel proud and privileged to be recognized by AHIC and to receive the lifetime achievement award, which is an honour to me and to all my colleagues at Rotana. This is a testimony to the hard work and effort expended towards nurturing Rotana into an international success”, commented Al Nowais.
Alongside his obvious success as an entrepreneur, Nasser Al Nowais is also a noted public servant, philanthropist and visionary, who has built and managed world-ranking institutions and companies on behalf of the UAE government.
After graduating with a degree in economics from New York University, Al Nowais returned to Abu Dhabi to begin his work for the UAE. One of his first tasks was to set up and manage the Abu Dhabi Fund and during his time as Managing Director of the fund he invested more than Dh2 billion ($544 million) in development projects in more than 40 countries throughout the Arab world, Africa and Asia, launching infrastructural projects ranging from dams, bridges and roads through to hospitals and schools.
Meanwhile, he was appointed undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Finance and industry, where he founded Abu Dhabi’s Central Bank. At the same time he embraced a number of board positions in the tourism industry with companies such as Gulf Air.
In 1978 he was appointed chairman of Abu Dhabi National Hotels to create the company that owns many of the hotel properties managed by the international hotel brands in Abu Dhabi and is also a significant hotel management company and catering business in its own right.
Having signing contracts with leading hotel operators such as the Sheraton, Hilton, InterContinental, Le Meridien, and Ramada on behalf of ADNH, Al Nowais became concerned that there were few Arabic speakers in the hotels. So he set out to build a caliber of Arabic-speaking professional hoteliers working in the properties that would be better prepared to deliver Abu Dhabi’s hospitality as a leading business centre and tourist destination in the Arab world.
“I noticed immediately that the operating companies had many foreigners who did not speak Arabic and so I pushed them to recruit Arabic speakers and to invest in training and experience for their Arab staff. I am proud to say that many of our first Arab employees are now managers and general managers of significant hotels around the region and the world,” he says.
In 1992 Al Nowais left ADNH to form the Rotana Group. From the start, Al Nowais had the vision for Rotana to grow into a unique brand for the Arab world and offer a special experience for its guests, combining the best in service quality with a uniquely Arabic insight. The key asset would be the people involved. As he says: “I had spent so much time with the people I had dealt with in the hotels company, training them, looking after them, and recognizing their achievements. I knew that they were capable of running the whole show and at that time there was no Arab company that was set up to manage and operate hotels - and so we set up Rotana.”
“When we started off there were two of us and then four- mainly professionals in operations - and we thought that in 10 years’ time we might have 25 hotels but with thanks to God, since 1993, when we opened our first hotel, the Beach Rotana, we have become very successful and the people we have employed have done a very good job. Now, we have a portfolio of 70 properties.”
Recognition of the team Al Nowais built came early when the Beach Rotana Hotel won the Sheikh Khalifa Award for Quality. “I was very, very pleased for my people that we should win such a historic award when none of the other hotel companies which had been here for so long had won one,” he says.
Al Nowais is sure that this initial success and all that has followed it is all about the people involved in the Rotana group. “Gradually we have established a well organized operating company but it is all about the devotion of our employees, their efforts and their achievements that has made us successful. We are not an investment company, we are an operating company and so all our capital and core resources are in our people who have done such a good job. Now we have 10,000 employees but soon we will have 17,000 with the new properties we have planned.”
Al Nowais’s ambition is for Rotana to have a hotel in every major centre in the Arab world. Already there are properties throughout the GCC, Levant, Iraq. As Al Nowais says: “Iraq is part of the Arab world, part of my world and so we must be there.” The group has expanded into Africa with established properties in Egypt and the Sudan and has ambitions to go further west into the Maghreb.
Al Nowais says that looking back over the years, to the time that has passed since the opening of Rotana’s first property in Abu Dhabi in 1993, the company is filled with gratitude. “Gratitude towards our owners and partners, our colleagues and of course our guests, with whom we’ve had the pleasure of sharing Rotana’s growth. It is our history that makes us who we are. Rotana today is the result of a shared vision and many years of loyalty, dedication and hard work. Knowing who we are and what we are capable of is of great value, creating a solid foundation that allows us to move forward with confidence, knowing that our future is secure,” he concludes.