Posted by: nuweiba | May 17, 2008

Building on a legacy of hospitality

By Aida Nassar

CAIRO: Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garanah stated during a meeting with the Oxford Business Group earlier this week that the total number of tourists visiting Egypt reached a staggering 9.1 million in 2006. “There are 183,000 rooms [in Egypt], plus more than 130,000 rooms under construction,” he added.

Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Authority Amr El-Ezabi told a press conference last month that as many as 665 new hotels are in the pipeline to host 16 million visitors annually by 2014 — almost double the 2004 numbers.

With 855 rooms, the newly appointed General Manager of the Cairo Ramses Hilton Mahmoud Mokhtar is tasked with holding on to his piece of the pie, and staying ahead of the competition.

“Our market is very competitive,” Mokhtar told Daily News Egypt. “There’s something happening every day in this industry.”

Located at the heart of downtown Cairo, with guest rooms overlooking the Nile and the Pyramids in the distance, the hotel has no difficulty attracting visitors. However, with new luxury hotels cropping up along the Nile corniche, the Ramses Hilton, inaugurated in 1981, is in need of a facelift.

Mokhtar is about to launch a creative plan to sharpen the hotel’s competitive edge. “It’s time to introduce the new Ramses Hilton,” he stated.

Keeping his cards close to his chest, he avoided divulging too much of the master plan, but hinted at room renovations and the creation of new restaurants.

“We have great plans to increase corporate [guests] and meetings,” he added. While tour and travel groups have historically been the hotel’s bread and butter, he sees potential growth in expanding the segment of corporate travelers.

The key to staying competitive, Mokhtar explains, is first and foremost, service. Guest facilities — internet access, in-room amenities, and the variety of restaurants — are complementary.

As part of its mission to excel in service, Hilton has launched a staff program, Esprit, that is in line with its culture and philosophy to take care of its employees, and “not only in words,” adds Mokhtar. 

On a basic level, they’ve implemented a wardrobe concept whereby employees are encouraged to give their input on the design of uniforms so that their comfort is always taken into consideration. For ambitious employees — of any level — who want to work their way up the ladder, Hilton provides an e-learning center that offers online courses.

With a pool of talented employees, and programs already in place, Mokhtar’s challenge is to eliminate the traditional way of thinking. “I’m going to have a new hotel with a fresh concept. If we let the old thinking rule us, we won’t succeed,” he states in a matter-of-fact manner.

To put it simply: “Same Hilton, new spirit,” he adds.

Mokhtar gives the distinct impression that he doesn’t settle for anything less than success. He joined the Ramses Hilton earlier this month with more than 21 years of experience in the hospitality industry, having joined Hilton International in 1996. He has held various managerial positions at Hilton Fayrouz in Sharm El-Sheikh, Nuweiba, Borg El Arab in Alexandria, at Hilton Al Ain in the UAE, and he reached the position of Cluster General Manger for Hilton hotels in Hurghada. Mokhtar’s most recent position was General Manager of Fiji Beach Resorts and Spa in the South Pacific.

Mokhtar worked his way up the managerial ladder. The opportunities were there, “At no point in my career did I say ‘no’ to any type of move or job. To make it you have to be flexible,” he said.

Attracting fresh graduates to the hotel industry is a challenge these days, he believes, because “with our new generation, perceptions are different. Now they want a good salary, and to make it in five years.”

To work your way to the upper echelons of hotel management, he advises, needs patience. “It’s a longer road you have to take,” Mokhtar explains. “Money and glory will come if you have the patience.”

The talent is there, he strongly believes. Hilton, however, is not simply waiting for prospects to knock on their door. A few months ago they formed a talent committee in Egypt. First, they identify what areas they need people in, then they scout for the talent — within and outside the industry. Mokhtar believes that the coming year, the committee will have produced results.

As one of the few Egyptian general managers among Cairo’s hotels, Mokhtar feels that he’s “opened the door for my colleagues.” Egyptians, he pointed out, have proven that they can excel in hospitality abroad.
Eventually, the nomadic career of a hotel manager will see Mokhtar travel to another post, but when his stint at Ramses Hilton is complete, he wants to have left behind, “A newly renovated hotel with a team attitude that is young, fresh, and beautiful.”

We’ll be keeping a watchful eye.


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