It’s a known fact that hiring young, skilled leaders can inject new blood into a company, foster innovation and unlock achievement. Hotel chains operating in the MENA region are adopting this mindset, selecting the leaders of their properties best suited to boost performance and leapfrog forward when it comes to initiatives, innovation and development. Our list of 16 general managers, nominated by their respective hotel chains, is a who’s who of those transforming the hospitality scene in this part of the world, as well as those who have made the biggest impact during this calendar year
Rabih Abdou, 41
Rabih Abdou brings over 20 years’ experience in the hotel business, and has become general manager for the first time when he was 35. He has stated his professional career with IHG hotels back in 1996, prior to his graduation, and has been promoted for several times. Following the business management degree he got from the Lebanese University in 2001, he has held different operational and administrative positions. His repertoire includes working with different leading chains, including Rotana.
Haytham Aziz, 38
Coral Beach Resort
Haytham Aziz joined the HMH group in 2014 as executive assistant manager at Bahi Ajman Palace Hotel, before being promoted to the position of hotel manager at Coral Beach Resort Sharjah in 2015. He was 36 when appointed as hotel manager and, by the age of 37, he had been promoted to general manager. At this comparatively young age, Aziz turned around a struggling business, making it a success story in an impressively short time. His positive vision, clear-cut business strategies and leadership skills started to make a difference when Coral Beach Resort closed 2016 with 25 percent increase in the business compared to 2015. Soon after, the guest satisfaction graph rose to an all-time high, with Coral Beach Resort taking the number one spot on TripAdvisor. The employee satisfaction survey shows the organizational stability and morale of staff higher than before. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Law from Helwan University in Cairo, Aziz has over 17 years’ experience in the hospitality industry.
Dan Benzaquen, 35
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Tala Bay Aqaba and Mövenpick Resort & Residences Aqaba
After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Hospitality Management from the Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland, Dan Benzaquen embarked on a flourishing career in hospitality. Starting out as a guest service manager in the 5-star Sheraton Dongguan Hotel in China, Benzaquen crossed continents to join the team at the Mövenpick Hotel & Apartments Bur Dubai for three years as assistant front office manager. From there, he moved to Deira to join Mövenpick Hotel Deira, where he quickly rose up the ranks to become operations manager. In 2015, he became executive assistant manager for Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea. Shifting further south to Jordan, Benzaquen is now cluster general manager of two Mövenpick properties. Several accolades have come the hotel’s way under his reign, including the World Travel Awards’ title of Leading Resort in Jordan for five straight years. The property was also honored by King Hussein Cancer Foundation for sponsoring the ‘Room for Hope’ initiative.
Richard Bleakley, 42
Marriott Hotel Al Forsan
Richard Bleakley is a seasoned hospitality professional with more than 16 years of extensive experience, the last five of which have been at three Marriott International properties in the UAE. He began his career in 2000 as an area sales manager for Marriott UK, moving upward to secure several key positions before he clinched his first general manager role at the Northampton Marriott Hotel in 2009. In 2012, he relocated to the UAE, gaining international experience as director of operations for the JW Marriott Hotel, Dubai, and shortly after, acquired the position of acting general manager for the same property. In 2014, Bleakley joined Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Center, Abu Dhabi, as general manager to open the hotel. The property was the first Marriott International property to open in the capital and has seen phenomenal success under his leadership. During this time, Bleakley has been a recipient of the Diamond General Manager of the Year Award by Marriott International. In 2017, he was appointed general manager of the Marriott Hotel Al Forsan, Abu Dhabi, opened on March 21, 2017.
Laura Eggleton, 31
Laura Eggleton joined Holiday Inn Muscat Al Seeb as its general manager in 2014 and has since then consistently proved her mettle by successfully implementing strategies to enhance guest experience and increase hotel revenues. Despite a challenging year in 2017, she was able to introduce strategies to continually achieve good results, focusing on offsetting shortfalls and delivering on occupancy. The strength coming from strong corporate performance was illustrated in an uplift of 23 percent year-to-date. One key attribute Eggleton demonstrates as general manager is an ability to work closely with house colleagues. She is a firm believer in the philosophy that a satisfied employee ensures a fully satisfied guest, which then translates into results. Under her leadership, the Holiday Inn Muscat Al Seeb reached 39 percent Omanization, the highest figure since the hotel’s opening. She persuaded her colleagues to undergo additional training throughout the year and encouraged them to prepare for upcoming roles in their careers with IHG. Many of her colleagues also completed the IHG leadership academy ‘Leading Others’ in 2017.
Antoun Kobercy, 37
Having almost 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Antoun Kobercy has been with Louvre Hotels Group since 2006. Prior to becoming the hotel manager of Tulip Inn Downtown Muscat, he had held various managerial and had also worked with other leading hotel chains including Marriott and IHG. After joining Golden Tulip Hotels – MENA, Kobercy’s journey involved properties across the region. Besides his hotel managerial role, he has been the director brand & system services – MENA in charge of the entire managed and franchised hotels in the region, which include 62 hotels, and has held this position for three years starting 2009.
Rafat Gotta, 38
Coral Dubai Deira Hotel
Rafat Gotta started out on his career path aged 20 and gained his first managerial position when just 24 years old. He became the head of department at 28, hotel manager at 33 and general manager at 37. Gotta began his career with Marriott in 1999, while still completing his university degree, and remained there until the end of 2006. During this period, he was assigned several roles within three Marriott hotels in the region. Afterwards, he joined Kempinski Hotels in early 2007, before moving to IHG as an executive committee member at the Crowne Plaza in 2008. He was in charge of three separate Holiday Inn Express properties between 2011 and 2017, before moving to HMH as general manager of Coral Dubai Deira Hotel. Under his supervision, the hotel won several accolades and was recognized regionally, securing first place on STR in a competitive field and boosting employee satisfaction to 88 percent. Gotta also led the hotel team to victory at the 2017 TripAdvisor travelers’ choice awards and the 2017 Agoda customer review award, in addition to reaching 91 percent occupancy for a full year.
Daniel Kaan, 38
Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers
Daniel Kaan was appointed general manager of Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers in 2017, aged 37. He attained his first general manager title within the group at Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain in 2014, where he led the team to win Best Airport Hotel in the Middle East for three consecutive years, including in 2017, Condé Nast top 10 airport hotels in the world (2017) and was also awarded the most popular Friday Brunch in Bahrain. His efforts increased the hotel’s profitability, without impacting on its unparalleled service excellence. In June, he joined Mövenpick Hotel Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai, where, along with his team, he developed a cartoon brunch concept catering to families, and scored a win at the BBC Good Food awards within the ‘Best Family Brunch in Dubai’ category. A versatile executive, he brings over 16 years of experience to his role, having joined Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts at Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam in 2010. Kaan served as director of food and beverage before being promoted to hotel manager. His early areas of expertise encompassed leadership roles in F&B, as well as conference services within the InterContinental Hotels Group in Dubai, Nairobi and Shenzhen, and with the Grand Hyatt in Beijing.
Elias Moukarzel, 39
Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa
When he was just 35, Elias Moukarzel was named as the general manager of the Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi. Afterwards, he became the leader of several Hilton properties across the region. For the time being, he has under his belt both King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre managed by Hilton, as well as Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa.
Moukarzel started his career in food and beverage service in the hospitality industry, and later progressed to take on managerial positions in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon. He received his Hospitality Management Higher National degree and an MBA from Ecole Hôtelière de Toulouse and Ecole de Savignac in France. To his repertoire of successes is added hosting the Annual Arab League Summit in 2017, which brought together all the Arab kings and heads of states.
Georges Ojeil, 40
Extending Le Gray in Beirut, signing a MOU with Alain Ducasse for an anticipated F&B property, maintaining the number one position on TripAdvisor since 2015, and being the sole hotel in Lebanon to be listed among the top 25 hotels in the Middles East in the categories of Luxury and Service on TripAdvisor, as well as winning TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Award 2018, are some of Georges Ojeil’s achievements as the general manager of Le Gray, Beirut, a position he held since he was just 38. With several years of experience in the hospitality industry and extensive knowledge in F&B, coupled with a double MBA from the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris and an Executive MBA from the École Supérieure des Affaires in Beirut, Ojeil has all the attributes needed for a leading general manager and hospitality aficionado. Following years as F&B director and executive assistant manager with a number of properties in Lebanon, Ojeil was appointed corporate director of food and beverage for Le Royal Hotels & Resorts, overseeing different properties in the region, including Le Royal Hammamet, Le Royal Luxembourg, Le Royal Beirut, Le Royal El Minzah and Grand Hotel Ville De France by Le Royal in Tangier. He was called to join IHG as executive assistant manager for the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Dead Sea, Jordan and then as hotel manager for Intercontinental’s flagship property in Amman.
Alaa Selim, 42
Copthorne Al Jahra
Alaa Selim joined Al Jahra Copthorne in October 2013. Since then, he has been instrumental in driving the business forward. Adopting an empowering strategy, he makes it a point to be in the front line, sending out a message that regardless of title, every team member needs to contribute to get the job done. Under his tenure, Al Jahra Copthorne Hotel and Resort reached the highest annual revenue to date, growing 30 percent year-on-year (y-o-y) and exceeding budget by almost 20 percent, up USD 3.5 million on last year’s figure. Occupancy index has risen by 39 percent y-o-y to take the number one spot among the competition. The property also achieved a 97 percent average hotel occupancy in the fourth quarter of 2017. The employee satisfaction score also rose to reach 94 percent, the second highest in the Middle East among Millennium & Copthorne hotels. In other achievements, the culinary team at Al-Jahra Copthorne Hotel & Resort earned five silver and bronze medals, along with 10 merit certificates and a prize of excellence in food safety and hygiene from Boecker during the annual culinary contest, held on the sidelines of the HORECA Exhibition.
Mohamed Samir Elsayed Mohamed, 38
Address Dubai Mall
With 16 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Mohamed Samir Elsayed Mohamed joined the hotel in February 2014 as a junior manager and was instrumental in strengthening its operational aspects. Previously, he worked in various managerial roles at a number of luxury hotels across the UAE and in Egypt. Mohamed is a graduate in Hotel Management from Helwan University, Cairo. He also completed the general manager’s program at Cornell University. He is responsible for the overall management of the hotel, including meeting financial targets, guest satisfaction and all-round operations. He is also mandated with further enhancing service standards through competent guest-management practices.
Moustafa Sakr, 40
The St. Regis Abu Dhabi
One of the founding members of The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Moustafa Sakr opened the hotel in 2013 as deputy general manager and was promoted to general manager two years later. He has 17 years of hospitality experience, including 15 in the Middle East. Under his tenure, the property won 12 awards in 2017 alone. Sakr expressly believes he owes this achievement to his team and is adamant that this tight relationship is reflected in overall guest satisfaction and loyalty. He is also convinced that his passion is what drives him to lead people and influence them. In return, he adds, he is inspired by his team. Asked about plans for the new year, Sakr said the growing market offers plenty of opportunities to capitalize on.
Amr Al Sunari, 40
Makarem Ajyad Makkah Hotel
With over 20 years of experience in the hotel industry, Amr Al Sunari – General Manager – Makarem Ajyad Makkah, a five-star hotel in Makkah by DUR Hospitality, greatly contributed to the growth of his hotel brand. Since he was appointed as the hotel GM in 2015, he was responsible for the complete transformation of the hotel, in line with the revamp of “Makarem Hotels” brand to a “spiritual” hotel brand. And though this concept was new to the market, Amr successfully initiated full fledge operations to promote the new brand standards, and implement the unique and innovative services that accompanied the transformation, such as the spiritual concierge. He, also established a Masjid in the hotel lobby, which is considered the biggest hotel lobby in Makkah, and opened two counters at the lobby to provide guest with convenience. Amr was keen to nurture potential employee talent, create a productive work environment by implementing training programs, and build a highly qualified and efficient team. He also achieved the hotel Saudization target, and continued to achieve a year on year growth despite market downturn.
Burçin Türker, 41
With over 15 years of experience within the hospitality industry, Burçin Türker leads Warwick Hotels and Resorts Ankara, the group’s first property in Turkey. Under his tenure, and with just a year of operations behind it, the Warwick Hotels’ brand awareness was boosted significantly in the country, while the hotel clinched the Guest Review Award in 2017. Prior to joining Warwick Hotels and Resorts, Türker served as group director of sales at Rixos Hotels & Resorts, where he effectively managed all aspects of the group’s portfolio of residences and governmental business. Previously, he was the director of business development at a 5-star local hotel chain in Ankara, where he successfully positioned it in the luxury property market. Türker has also served as sales and marketing director of GL Events properties, which is the biggest international convention and exhibition center in Ankara. Earlier in his career, he worked at Swissotel & Resorts, Radisson BLU and Hilton International, gaining experience in pre-opening and opening hotels. He is a member of the Anatolian Tourism Administrators Association and the Association of Hoteliers and Operators Ankara.
Bassam Zakaria, 36
Millennium Hotels and Resorts, Kingsgate Hotel
A professional, ambitious and practical leader, Bassam Zakaria brings nearly 20 years of experience within the hospitality sector. A French citizen with Syrian origins, he has managed and worked in some of the largest hotels and resorts around the world, including Hilton International, Starwood and Rotana. His result-driven style of management has helped him lead multi-talented teams and led to him receiving critical acclaim during his tenure. He secured his first managerial role in 2006, when he was area sales manager at Rotana Hotels in Abu Dhabi. Zakaria joined Millennium Hotels and Resorts in 2016 as resident manager/deputy general manager, where he improved the overall guest satisfaction score by 2.3 points, achieved better positioning on various guest review websites and increased the mix of leisure business by 9 percent year-on-year by attracting new markets with longer lengths of stay. He was promoted to general manager at Kingsgate Abu Dhabi and, with a team of just 28 staff members, he has serviced over 60,000 guests in the year to date, improved occupancy and maintained it at 85 percent, and achieved excellent reviews on various platforms, such as Facebook and TripAdvisor.