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Al Khozama looks to the future with expansion firmly in its sights.

From room attendant to vice president Hussein Ali Hatata of Al Khozama Management Company (AKMC) truly knows the ropes in the hotel business and his experience has put him in a unique position to steer Al Khozama in a new direction since it went public in 2005.

Hatata joined the company in 1978 working as a room attendant at the Al Khozama Hotel, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, at the age of just 18.

He said: "At that time the hotel was managed by a Swiss company and I worked as a room attendant. I was supervised and trained by Swiss and German ladies and they were very patient with me, teaching me the ropes.

HatataC*experience

"Right from the first I wanted to be the best I could be at whatever job I was doing and I always made sure my rooms were perfect, my trolley was perfect etc. The training was important but it is also your nature which helps you achieve if you want to do well.

"At that time the company was a place where you could work regardless of age, nationality or religion so I took my opportunity and it was a good environment in which to learn.

"In my opinion the title of the job doesn't matter, it's the role you are playing in that job that is important."

The next years saw him move throughout the housekeeping department taking on more and more responsibility until he was sent to hotel school in Lausanne, Switzerland and by 1990 he returned to Saudi Arabia as acting general manager!

"It was 12 years from the time I started that I became acting general manager. At that point the management company was Swiss and everyone in senior management positions was Swiss so my appointment was a revolution which opened doors for other people to see that, with the right training and application, they could also do well."

Between 1990 and 1997 Hatata spent time in the US undergoing further training and education, including a stint at the famous Cornell University, before once again returning to Saudi Arabia where he led the opening team of a new hotel at Abha in the south of the country while also holding down the position of rooms division manager and acting general manager at the Al Khozama.

On his return he started to prepare for the opening of the group's new property in Riyadh, the Al Faisaliah, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The Madinah property for which AKMC is currently in negotiation

He said: "At the Al Faisaliah I was very proud to introduce the butler concept for the first time in Saudi Arabia. I knew this was something I wanted to do so I went to London to the Lanesborough, which is famous the world over for its butlers, and learned how to implement the service.

"I introduced it in 2000 and it took about three years to catch on but it has now become a trademark of Al Faisaliah which the hotel is known for in the kingdom and beyond.

"Of course, when we first started out, having butlers meant training them but we did that and it has paid off."

Between 2003 and 2005 the Al Khozama underwent a complete renovation and Hatata found himself back at his old hotel overseeing the works and making sure everything went smoothly.

In 2005 AKMG, which had previously been a silent operator as part of the King Faisal Foundation and simply owned the hotels, which were by then under the management of Rosewood, decided to prepare for an initial public offering.

The King Faisal Foundation is a philanthropic body set up in commemoration of the late Saudi monarch and until that point AKMG was simply one of its divisions with assets used to bring in funds for the foundation's work.

However, with the transfer of those assets to AKMG it was decided the company needed to become more public and Hatata was brought on board as vice president of the hotels division with the role of finding properties to manage.

He said: "I must admit it was not an easy task, obviously our own hotels were being managed by another company, which has a contract with us, so that was the first thing owners wanted to know, why they should trust us with their properties when we were not managing our own.

"There were people who thought we would fail, but I never gave up and I used the history of the company combined with the reputation of our hotels and succeeded in signing a five-star hotel in Makkah, the Al Shohada.

The sumptuous lobby of the Al Shohada Hotel

"This was our first hotel to manage and our first experience outside of Riyadh so it was a double challenge and it was an example for owners to see if we could succeed in looking after other people's assets.

There were many who expected it to fail but I wanted us to bring a unique offering to Makkah and that's what we have done. We offer outstanding service 24 hours a day when people are used to things closing down at 11pm and this has encouraged other hotels to improve their service.

"In fact we took over the hotel in November 2007 and last year we won the Naseba award for best hotel customer service."

The company also now has a property in Madinah, the Al Khozama Medina due to open this year and negotiations are underway for another five-star property in the city which is expected to be announced soon.

Hatata added: "These properties in the holy cities reflect Islamic standards in the eyes of the world, Saudi Arabia is judged through these two cities and we want to do the very best we can.

"Pilgrims come to these cities and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We want to help make it the best it can be for them."

AKMC is also investing in a new hotel at Durrat Arriyadh which will be its first resort property. Due to open in around two years it will be managed through Al Faisaliah and the company is looking at the development of Jeddah where there are various projects in the pipeline.

"We have gone from having to hunt for management opportunities to having hotels coming up in all the major cities of Saudi Arabia. Our strength is very much in our team. People can see me as an example of what can be achieved, the company utilises the investment it makes in its staff and we have people who have been with us for many years and are progressing," said Hatata.

"Who would have imagined that the guy who used to clean the rooms would one day be the manager!

"The real investment is experience and that is the hardest school because you have to take the exam before you have done the lessons but we are all learning all the time and the company is very much looking forward to the future and the new opportunities it will bring."

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Publication:Travel & Tourism News
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:1198
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