Iftikhar Hamdani arrived in the UAE in 1999 after having graduated from Hailey College of Commerce and having done his first hotel stint at the Pearl Continental in Lahore. With his heart firmly set on marketing and sales – despite having had experience in front desk operations, accounts, audits, etc. - he pursued his MBA in Lahore while working. In the UAE, his first job was at the Coral Beach Resort, Sharjah. Hamdani reminisces, “I still remember when Roger Caesar – the General Manager at the time - asked me what I wanted to be in five years, I was quite cheeky and said that I wanted to be the General Manager!” With experience in handling labour and unions back in Pakistan, Hamdani started his job with manpower handling expertise and leadership qualities under his belt. Eventually, although he didn’t become the General Manager – within five years he had climbed the ladder and became the Executive Assistant Manager of the hotel.
Hamdani goes on to talk about his mentor, hotelier Michel Noblet. He says, “In his first speech as General Manager, he declared that we would acquire 25 hotels in five years. I remember wondering how that was possible. But, after working closely with him I understood that it was possible - eventually he acquired more than 25 hotels in those five years! That included the Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman as well. That is when Noblet pushed me to take charge of that property – erstwhile called Coral Suites Ajman. Eventually, in my capacity as the operations manager, I had a 72% GOP, which is the average occupancy. That is what made me stand out amongst my peers.”
It’s been eight years since Hamdani took over what is now the Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman. Under his guidance, the hotel’s growth graph continues to grow ever year. But, it wasn’t so easy in the beginning. The main issue with the hotel before was the occupancy rate. So as soon as Hamdani came on board, his main aim was to improve occupancy rates – which soon climbed up to about 95%.
Soon they started looking at making profits – Hamdani says, “The trick was filling and filtering. I started filling the hotel with guests from all sectors – cricket teams, football teams, etc. As I achieved those goals, I realised that eventually I could earn no more revenue than I was already earning for the company.” So the team started analysing how they could cut on expenses. That was the initial trigger for the hotel’s sustainability success. The first item to tick off was energy consumption – the hotel had whopping bills and with its individual ACs it became quite difficult to sustain. Hamdani started attending seminars on green energy and sustainability to learn about how he could cut down on consumption. Another major issue was employee turnover – which was at an all-time high of 60%. This meant additional visa costs, training and accommodation costs. He started working aggressively to engage staff in different activities like sports, while also carrying out in-house promotions. The turnover rate soon plummeted to 2%. Soon the focus shifted to waste management – which at that time was a whopping Dhs 120,000 per annum for waste collection. In July 2012, the hotel installed its first composting machine. “This was possibly the first such thing in the hotel industry here and we had huge media coverage. Various government and private sectors visited our property to understand the composting mechanism, and was soon followed by the major hotel chains in the region. Eventually we became Green Globe certified in 2015.”
By then, the hotel had already moved on to sustainability for long-term benefits rather than commercial incentives. They have converted some of their space to create an urban farm where compost from the machine is used to grow vegetables. Hamdani says, “With our continuous efforts, we have learned more about how we can save our resources. Sixty per cent of our wet waste comes from the kitchen. We send our used cooking oil to be converted into bio-fuel. We also have a reverse osmosis plant to give good quality of water. The hotel’s daily water supply is 67,000 gallons; 17,000 gallons go to waste due to high level of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). The hotel operations require at least 60,000 gallons of water per day, thus generating a supply deficit. Through the new RO plant, approximately 10,000 gallons of waste water are filtered and treated to bring down the TDS level and make the water suitable for use in the hotel’s gardens and urban farm. We also have a food waste macerator and dewatering machine, which can convert 350 kg of wasted food into 65 per cent water and 35 per cent solid waste (which then goes into composting) within an hour.”
“Hospitality is my passion,” says Hamdani. “I am currently at the peak of my career and am well prepared to shoulder the responsibility of several more properties. But, my goal is to allow and inspire people to realise their potential and the need to conserve resources.” Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman recently organised a painting competition for school children and received a hugely positive response. Within a month they collected more than 25,000 art sheets. Hamdani believes that dedication and inner belief is the core of such initiatives.
“Anyone faces challenges in their career. From working while doing my masters, to struggling to understand how I can make a mark in my company and the industry, to trying to accomplish my goal of being a GM in 5 years – I’ve seen it all. Handling this hotel and making it stand on its own feet was possibly the biggest challenge. My years of experience have allowed me to understand how to strategise and overcome unforeseen issues,” Hamdani says.
Two accomplishments have shaped Hamdani’s 20+ years career. The first was when he won the Best Financial Performer Coral International Trophy 2007, for being the top-performer within Coral Group. “The second is the new persona that sustainability has given me. From amongst the several awards that I have received, the one that stands out most recently is the Alleem Excellence Awards, which recognised 11 personalities in the UAE for their contribution and excellent work.”
He says, “I will continue exploring more areas in sustainability. I always believe that there are new techniques waiting to be explored. We are the only Green Globe certified hotel in the Northern Emirates, and it is our aim to maintain this position. We are taking a close look at the kind of cleaning and hygiene products that we are using to make a positive impact on the environment. I am also looking at using solar energy to power our hotel, while also going paperless in the near future. My sustainability journey is certainly shaping up and making me a green hotelier – which I am immensely proud of.”