I have been working in the hospitality industry for over twenty years. As I have worked in various regions around the world, it has given me the ability to be multi-faceted and versatile in my approach.
I joined Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2001 as Executive Assistant Manager in charge of Food & Beverage at Sheraton Club des Pins Resort & Towers Algiers, Algeria. I was then promoted to Deputy General Manager and in 2006 was transferred to Sheraton Damascus Hotel, Syria as the General Manager. In 2010, I moved to Pakistan as Area Manager, Pakistan and General Manager Sheraton Karachi Hotel.
I have always loved meeting new people, travelling and exploring different cultures. This is essential in my profession and has resulted in the zeal and motivation to succeed.
As far as my inspiration is concerned, I do not have one specific name in mind but rather the numerous anonymous hoteliers and restaurateurs who have dedicated their efforts in making professional hospitality a business which has managed to keep its human dimension.
It sounds to be an inspiring story of success – what do you think is the secret of your hotel business?
Meeting new people and exploring different cultures is the key to success in this industry. I believe that there are universal values which exist everywhere regardless of the local cultures and geographical location. These values have helped me adapt to different environments and gel in which in turn has enabled me to create a multi cultural network. These values include transparency, honesty, fair business deals and respect for diversity resulting in good business relationships.
Starwood is a company which strongly believes in these values and ‘doing the right thing’ is one of our mission statements.
What are the major issues and challenges in your profession?
The major issues and challenges in the hotel industry are not very different from other professions. The economic environment has a strong impact on performances.
Perhaps in the hotel business, we are definitely more sensitive towards economic and security matters. When anything goes wrong, we are strongly affected by it. This has been a common case in Pakistan. Last summer due to some critical security issues in the city, the local business declined to an alarming level. This vulnerable security environment has created a negative perception which cannot be easily minimized by any security measure taken by hotels.
Karachi, one of the largest cities of Pakistan only has a few hotels of international standard. Hence, the city hotel occupancy should be on the high side but this is not the case as it is very difficult to convince visitors from abroad to come and visit the city. There is a negative perception about Pakistan which needs to change.
Presently, what is the scope of hotel business in Pakistan?
The first step in improving the hotel business in Pakistan is to secure local business including conventions, groups, etc. We need to develop local tourism as Pakistan is a very large country and the different cities have very diverse attractions to offer (sea, mountain, desert, monuments, food culture etc.)
Foreign visitors have to be encouraged to come and visit, possibly through local government initiatives such as expo conventions. Once here, their perception is always better and these visitors become the best advocates for the country. Additionally, the visa procedures have to be simplified in order to further entice any potential visitor. This country has plenty to offer and has many assets but this potential is currently underutilized and not being put to value.
In your opinion, what is the significance of advertising?
Advertising is extremely important but it does not necessarily refer to conventional methods. There are other ways to raise awareness about a brand which are actually more efficient than conventional advertising. Examples of this are direct business relationships and PR which come together to enhance the image of our hotel. Similar to advertising, which is fundamental to awareness, CSR is another important facet. Our CSR initiatives have allowed us to use Starwood’s reputation and wide reach to raise global awareness and funds for certain problems such as the floods in Sindh.
Through our ‘Give a Brick, Give a Break’ Flood relief initiative, we adopted a flood-hit village in Thatta and rebuilt it for the residents. We also built a school in collaboration with UNICEF to replace the old one which was badly damaged by the 2010 floods and was no longer fit for use.
Do you think that this business needs to modify?
Like any other business, the hotel business needs to evolve with time. When Sheraton Karachi Hotel was built almost 30 years ago, the environment and customer needs and demands were very different as compared to today.
At present, security is a key issue. The new hotels take this issue into account which results in more efficient operations. Furthermore, people’s expectations have changed; the service provided now needs to be more personalized for them to feel appreciated. ‘Connectivity’ is also one of our main values and we try to truly connect which each and every guest in our property.
After a long, stressful journey, we understand the need to reach out to someone who matters. To further enhance this, we have recently introduced Link @ Sheraton, a facility in the lobby which provides people with the opportunity to step out of their rooms whether they want to do some work or simply relax, have something to eat, watch television, browse the Internet and interact with other like-minded individuals.
In your view, what steps should the government take to boost the hotel business?
There are two main steps which the government should take:
1. Provide adequate security to all parts of the country.
2. To be proactive in promoting countries abroad and erasing the negative perception about Pakistan.
In addition, the government can organize events such as fairs and exhibitions which can be helpful in depicting a positive image and can promote the country. The government also needs to be proactive in inviting people to such events.
What role can the hotel business play in the economic development of the country?
The economic development of Pakistan is not something that is only done by people on site. Foreign and local investors both have a major role to play in this. Developing the economy becomes a difficult task when there is no facility to increase business.
A hotel is a recipient for potential investors and we facilitate people who wish to visit the country and look at opportunities. However, with no tourism and no conferences, this has become rather difficult.
We, at the end of the day have a very important link within the process and make it possible for people to be mobile.