Video: Emirati business tycoon Nasser Al Nowais talks about the success of 'Arab hospitality'

Founder of the first Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi recalls early life in the UAE and reflects on how generosity shaped the hotel industry.



by

Michal Michelle Divon

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 10:40 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 4:27 PM

Known as one of the UAE’s leading figures in the hotel industry, Nasser Al Nowais has been at the forefront of bringing Abu Dhabi and the UAE to the world for over three decades.

It is almost 30 years since the pioneering Emirati launched the first Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi, a destination which remains a historical part of the emirate’s history and development into tourism.

An economist by education and a graduate of New York University, Al Nowais has been at the helm of the emirate’s growth, with roles including founding the Abu Dhabi National Hotels Company, which he chaired for 14 years, now the largest hotel and industrial catering company in the region.

During his illustrious career he has been the Managing Director of the Abu Dhabi Fund where he administered numerous tourist, industrial and agricultural investments as well as infrastructure projects in the Middle-East and Africa, in addition to his holding the position of Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance and Industry.

While many people today see the UAE as a futuristic, forward-thinking country, a beacon to not only the Arab World but on the global stage, Al Nowais is of the generation born in the palm-frond homes of a bygone era, born at home when there were no schools or hospitals.

“When I went to Dubai, Al Ain or Fujairah, we went through the desert as there were no roads at that time,” he said. It is a massive transition, marked by sharp contrasts. “You know at one point, life was so difficult,” he told Khaleej Times. “The food which we can eat today is different than the food we could eat in the past which was literally fish and rice.”

It was the age of the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, who Al Nowais says taught him so much.

“I learned how to be a simple man, how to be humble. I learned how to treat people as a human being, whether they have different nationalities, or a different religion.”

The turning point in his life came when he became the first Emirati to study in New York, given a scholarship to travel to New York University. He says the move was “a big shock”, like moving from a village to a big city. But it was what he would bring back that was the most transformative.

“One of the most important things was learning to treat everyone equally. At that time in Abu Dhabi, we depended on a lot of expatriates so you have to treat them very well. If you want them to produce and if you want them to be happy, you have to treat them as a human being and as part of success, you have to be working as a team.”

During his time in New York, he had to work in his spare time, as a receptionist, and then in a laundry and also in a restaurant, giving him firsthand insight to build his brand and build his team.

Starting with one hotel in the 1990s, the Rotana brand now has over 100 properties across the region from Saudi to Bahrain, Oman to Turkey.

It is an achievement Al Nowais never dreamed of when he set out to simply create a brand which locals would be able to enjoy and to help benefit the local economy and community, and far from being done, he is now looking to take the brand further afield as it expands into Europe.

Retaining his approachable persona, in spite of his overwhelming success, he said staying in touch with his team is one of the secrets to a flourishing business.

“When we established this company we didn't have the money that the other big brands had, nor did we have much capital,” he recalls. Now, with thousands of employees, he remains a very hands on part of the Rotana brand. “I don't even stay in my office, I’ll go to them,” he says. “And everybody knows, I go to the kitchen, to the laundry, to the receptionists, I go everywhere. I’m very reachable.”

In spite of his own years spent in New York, he remains deeply committed to the UAE, not only in his local business but supporting the local educational institutions, sending his own children to the American University in Sharjah, to keep them close to home, while offering them a good education for their futures.

His philosophy for both his children and the young generation is “to be very patient”. After decades of hard work, he says: “You know you cannot get everything easily. You have to work hard for it.”


More news from Videos
What to expect from the 40th SIBF

What to expect from the 40th SIBF

Sharjah International Book Fair has opened its doors for the 40th edition, bringing over 15m books to the Sharjah Expo Centre. Video by Muhammad Sajjad and Abdul Karim Hanif

Video: UAE’s Hidden Gems –  Dubai Food Festival Edition

Video: UAE’s Hidden Gems – Dubai Food Festival Edition

Heard of a little corner shop or a hole-in-the-wall eatery that’s rumoured to sell the best burger, sandwich, or kebab? Or a ‘little-known place’ that ‘launches a thousand ships’? UAE’s Hidden Gems, a weekly series, features one such place a week. This week we hit the streets of Jumeirah 3 as part of the Dubai Food Festival.

What's brewing in news? Join our Morning Chat

What's brewing in news? Join our Morning Chat

Know who are exempted from wearing masks in Dubai and all about Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine that is said to be 90 per cent effective in today's KT Morning Chat. Read more on www.khaleejtimes.com