Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 January 2008
Issue No. 878
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Welcome the competition

Although competition has toughened in the hospitality business, for the new general manager of the Ramses Hilton, it means increasing the chance of getting more guests and of improving service, Rehab Saad reports


With the growing number of hotel rooms in Egypt and with the cropping up of many international hotel chains with state-of-art facilities, old renowned five- star hotels have entered an era in which they must upgrade their facilities to cope with modern trends. Some of these hotels find the competition rough while others sees it as a chance for change. Mahmoud Mokhtar, the new general manager of Ramses Hilton Hotel, is in the latter group. "It is very healthy to get all international chains here in Egypt because this can only improve service and I am sure we, as the Ramses Hilton, can welcome any competitor because it means more arrivals, more seating capacity on airplanes, more profits and definitely better living conditions for our team members," he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

To sharpen the hotel's competitive edge, Mokhtar declared that the hotel will go through a three-year refurbishing plan "that will include every aspect and every inch of the hotel. However, this doesn't mean that we will stop improving whenever we have the chance to improve. The recent inauguration of the Indian Maharaja Restaurant is evidence of what I am saying. We didn't wait for the master plan but we introduced a new outlet to the downtown area," Mokhtar said.

The location of the hotel in the heart of the downtown area, with many rooms overlooking the Nile, is a big asset for the hotel, however, besides the superb location Mokhtar believes that the hotel has something that a lot of people would like to have -- the Hilton spirit and the years of experience that cannot be found elsewhere.

"Yes we might be a bit old and we are waiting to refurbish but we have the team members that have been with us for years and years and who have made this hotel what it is now. They are our asset now," Mokhtar said.

With Egypt receiving 9.1 million tourists in 2006 and expecting to receive 14 million tourists by 2010, Mokhtar believes that the increase in the number of tourists should go hand in hand with an improvement in the quality of service. "We are targeting a major increase in tourist arrivals. We are urging investors to come to our country. We are asking international chain hotels to come and open up big projects, we are building airports, we are doing everything we can to increase revenues and to increase tourist numbers. However, the service challenge remains unsolved one way or another," he said.

He added that Egypt does not have enough local expertise to cope with the increase in the number of hotels and subsequently in the increasing demand of quality service. "So we find ourselves needing to bring foreign experts to train our workers or we need to send our people to get trained abroad. In addition, I believe that we have very few hospitality schools across the country to bring us trained staff. If we want to get what we want to get, we should have qualified workers and supervisors and we should have second and third liners and not only qualified people at the managerial level. We still need to let our people understand what we call service oriented. This really needs a lot of work."

Although the hospitality industry is criticised for employing foreign labourers in different positions, Mokhtar believes that Egyptians are taking the available opportunities in many fields. "However, there are some fields in our industry where foreigners are excelling, like in food and beverage and in animation in resorts. In food and beverage we need foreign experts to come for a year or two to leave behind a second line for Egyptians, and in animation, the Italians are the masters of the game. They have special schools from which animators graduate from."

Mokhtar, who joined the Hilton in February 1996 as the assistant manager of Hilton Fayrouz Sharm El-Sheikh Hotel and is believed to be the youngest general manager in Egypt, said that Hilton is known for giving the younger generation the opportunity to take leading roles in hotels. Mokhtar was the pre-opening manager of Hilton Borg Al-Arab in Alexandria, Hilton Dreams in Sharm El-Sheikh, Hilton Long Beach in Hurghada and the Hilton on Fiji Island in the South Pacific. "What I learnt is endless, really endless. Every hotel and every city has its own culture and its own traditions. Working in Egypt and in other Arab countries with different cultures like the United Arab Emirates, then in the Fiji Islands, and in our head office in Australia, gave me the chance to get in touch with different cultures. This definitely adds to you on a personal and professional basis as well. There is always something new every day in our business."

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