Rabih Melhem has been called one of the best hotel GM’s in the UAE, but this modest and down to earth man doesn’t pay attention to such accolades. He simply just loves what he does, and after speaking with him for a couple of hours at the Park Rotana complex about his long career with Rotana hotels, his passion for the hospitality industry was clearly apparent.
His approachable style, complimented by his ability to pay attention to detail and his desire to invest in the success of the people around him, are just some of the reasons behind his personal success and account for why Rabih is a recent winner of the General Manager of the Year award in the UAE. No small feat in a country so ensconced in the tourism industry.
Read on to find out more about the charismatic and successful man behind the Rotana Hotel Company.
You have been called one of the best hotel General Managers in the UAE. Why do you think people say that?
Really? I did not even realize people say that! It’s an honor to be named such, considering the presence of word-class general managers and hoteliers in the UAE. Perhaps it’s because of the hospitality experience, innate passion and my hands-on approach to the business.
What makes a hotel GM successful?
A successful GM is one who leads by example, a leader who is always available and approachable, a hotelier who personally takes care of guests and one who develops, strengthens and empowers his team. The success of a general manager lies on his strength to discover and maximize talent and when he has a strong team, success is inevitable.
In 2015 you received the General Manager of the Year award in the UAE How did that feel and to whom do you contribute your success?
It was an amazing feeling to be recognized not just within the company but externally, meaning by the entire hospitality industry. It was definitely a great moment of my career, and that recognition goes back to the team I work with. It was because of their success that I was given that award.
You recently made the move from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Which city do you prefer and why?
I honestly love both cities. Actually, I was already in Abu Dhabi many years ago and it was an excellent period in my career. This is also the city where I landed in when I first came to the country. Dubai, on the other hand, was home for the past several years and it presents nothing but great memories professionally and personally. Both cities definitely hold a special place in my heart.
What made you leave the US in 2000 after years of schooling and work there?
It was the passion for hospitality and the passion for the UAE. I thought and I still do think it is such a vibrant place to be a hotelier. The country is such a fast developing world-class destination and I wanted to be part of that development and be able to contribute towards its success.
Why did you choose the UAE as your next address?
In addition to what I have mentioned earlier, the UAE is also a very safe place. It is a fantastic place to raise a family and enjoy life as much as possible.
How is the hotel industry in the USA and the UAE the same? How is it different?
In the simplest hospitality concept, it is the same – we all want to deliver the best guest experiences and make our guests happy. The US has had its hospitality industry for much longer than the UAE hence it has become very advanced. Hence it is a great base, a good school if you may, to learn from. The UAE hospitality landscape on the other hand, showcasing the world renowned Arabic hospitality, has grown so much over the past 20 years. It presented such a phenomenal growth that it actually reached or even exceeded international standards in the industry. The UAE is definitely an exciting venue to set new plans, execute creativity and implement new projects.
What makes Rotana hotels so successful?
I would say it is because of the company culture, the way we do business, the way we prioritize our business partners and colleagues and the way we always strive to give our guests a treasured time every time they are with us. Being a home-grown brand, we live and breathe our brand values and ensure consistency all throughout, from the smallest details to the biggest ones.
What advice would you give other hotel GM’s starting their careers?
First and foremost, they need to take all the time, knowledge and experience so do not rush it. Second, to make sure that you work with your team towards common goals. Third, take your time to invest in your team, be approachable, open and transparent. Keep finding and developing talent. As I have already mentioned, the success of your team is your success, and achievement of business goals automatically comes.
What are some challenges you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
There wouldn’t be any jobs without any challenge and challenges come in different forms. It’s how you would overcome them that matters because that leads you to success. Like many other hoteliers, I had my own set of challenges but I took each one of them as a learning experience, as an opportunity to know better, grow more and be stronger in our craft.
What has been the best and worst day of your career?
Would you believe they are on the same day? As hoteliers, we are highly flexible in terms of last minute requests and in ensuring we deliver the hospitality expectations we are provided. I still remember getting that call and it was a request from a highly important guest for a VVIP catering that was about to happen in two hours in the middle of the desert. Saying no was not an option because it involved internationally prominent figures. Those two hours were the longest two hours of my life – the coordination, preparation and logistics were so intense I thought I could not make it. It was a scary and challenging moment because there was a lot at stake. But when the guests showed up in the desert a couple of hours after, everything was ready. We were able to make the impossible possible so it started out as the worst day of my career but ended as the best.
What is ahead for you? Where will you be in 5 years? 10 years?
I still see myself in the industry, continuously pursuing my passion in hospitality.
What is the single most important lesson you have learned in your career?
Working in hospitality over the years has taught me a lot of things, but one important thing I have learned is to always inspect before you expect. We work in a very hectic pace, hence attention to details is of utmost importance. You have to be really hands-on, present and on top of things all the time.
At what point in your career did you realize you were doing something right?
This is honestly something I feel all the time. Amidst the challenges and triumphs I face every day at work, my heart belongs to hospitality. Whether I learn, overcome or achieve something, I know I am doing something right. It has been a career I have deliberately chosen and when I come home and tell my wife and kids how my day at the hotel was, and see the smiles on their faces, I know that I am in the right industry doing the right thing.
What, if anything, would you have done differently?
I would not change anything, because everything has either been a learning curve or an accomplishment that paved the way to be the person I am right now. We should never cease to learn, explore new things, learn from our mistakes and strive to be the best versions of ourselves.
Can you ever see yourself relocating back to the USA?
Not for now, but perhaps eventually. At the moment, I am loving UAE both professionally and personally. My wife and my kids also love it here so going back is just not in cards right now.
I just have to know, living so long in California, are you an NFL fan and if so, Raiders or Chargers?
It’s always a fun experience to watch football matches, no matter what teams are playing. However, if I have to choose my favourite, it will definitely by the San Francisco 49ers.
Is there any question you were hoping I was going to ask and didn’t?
Yes, I was actually anticipating you would ask me why I have been in Rotana for so long because I get that question a lot.
Why? Because I have been part of this company since its early stages many years ago. I have seen its impressive development from having just a few properties before to what it is now, one of the leading hospitality management companies in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey. I have been part of that growth and I certainly look forward as it reaches further heights. As per the company plan, we plan to double our portfolio in the next five years and expand globally, which will definitely be an exciting venture I would love to be part of.
Is there anything else you would like to tell me or would like your readers to know?
Yes, and that is for you and your thousands of readers to experience our hospitality at the Park Rotana complex featuring our five star hotel Park Rotana Abu Dhabi, our deluxe serviced apartments, Park Arjaan by Rotana and Park Residences.
We have award-winning dining outlets including the award-winning Teatro where eastern cooking meets western cuisine, Cooper’s, which has made its mark as one of Abu Dhabi’s most established pubs and of course, Ginger, our all-day dining restaurant offering exciting theme nights and buffet lunch.
In addition, we have great accommodation options for both business and leisure travelers as well as recreation facilities everyone will surely enjoy. Our meetings and events facilities are preferred venues for all sorts of events, whether for business meetings and exhibitions or private parties, weddings and social events.
More than these however, we are a team of passionate hoteliers looking forward to welcoming you and to providing you the renowned hospitality we are known for.