With over 32 years of experience in the hospitality world across Australia, Asia and the Middle East in various senior management roles, Naim Maadad has launched and operated some of the world’s best hotels, resorts, spas and F&B venues. Here, he discusses the hospitality scene and why sustainability matters more than ever.
You’ve been a trailblazing force in the hospitality industry with a wide range of honors and awards. Which is the dearest to your heart?
It’s difficult to identify one in particular, as every recognition is special. The titles “Maverick,” “Disrupter,” “Gatekeeper” and “Godfather” are some of my favorites, especially as they came from people who acknowledge my role in developing the F&B scene in the UAE.
As a trendsetter in the F&B and hotel scene, what are the major challenges you are facing?
We constantly face challenges in the industry. It wouldn’t be possible to develop, grow and expand our businesses without them. We are truly blessed in the UAE to have government partners that support us.
However, human capital remains the biggest challenge; it is proving very difficult to attract talent due to the nature of our sector. Thus, our role as leaders is to work on how we can reposition the industry and outline clear career paths.
You’ve always been an advocate of people versus profit. What can you tell us about that?
People generate profit, so it is crucial to surround yourself with high-caliber employees and invest in them; profits will then follow. Finding the right talent, offering training and helping employees thrive in their careers is the greatest challenge, but it is a must for organizations to generate profits and evolve.
At Gates Hospitality, our business is built on four brand pillars, which are enrich, engage, innovate and belong. There’s no commercial reference in any of those pillars. However, if all four are applied well and enforced throughout, the commercial success takes care of itself.
In a world heavily shifting toward AI, what is the importance of EI in the hospitality industry?
AI is a system that allegedly facilitates the role of the front and back of the house, whereas in EI lies the hospitality heart: emotional intelligence, engagement and connection.
As the name suggests, hospitality is all about how you make people feel and technology alone cannot deliver it properly. It’s essential to engage and give the business a soul through service and experience.
Greenwashing versus in-depth sustainability. What are the main differences between the two?
Greenwashing is luring people to buy your products and services based on false sustainable practices, while sustainability is a set of solutions that support and address climate challenges, gas emissions, traceability and assist in developing circular economies. True sustainability comes from wanting to make a difference in the world we live in and raise awareness in the surrounding communities to encourage similar actions. The importance of this far outweighs any “feel good” marketing slogans.
What are the views on green practices? What’s lacking and what mindset needs to change in order to achieve real sustainability?
There’s much work to be done to educate people on the causes, sources and impact of their actions. It’s not only about plastic straws and cutlery but more about our behavior through recycling, reusing, saving and looking at alternative technology solutions, including AI, to help us in the field.
As individuals attempt to implement some of these practices in their own communities, a cascading effect occurs. People are making choices based on financial objectives rather than sustainability, so the industry needs the government’s endorsement to ensure that options in the market are broadly accessible. A supply chain with broader possibilities and solutions will promote market competition, which will eventually have a beneficial impact on the company.
How is the issue of mental health being discussed in business?
Mental health was and will always be important, but unfortunately, it’s not prioritized above what the business world has forced us to focus on.
However, the recent shift in the young generation becoming part of the economy and engaging in the market has shed light on the topic. It has become an important element in every business regardless of the industry or sector. We must focus on making sure the workplace is safe, equal, inclusive and promotes positive mental health and well-being, because this will ultimately affect your business in one way or another.
What is the secret behind Gates Hospitality’s success?
Our four brand pillars are applied in all areas through service, education, talent and planning. We are extremely up to date on the market trends and all our brands remain authentic and honest to their ethos and identity. We build and develop brands based on established demographics and geographics that will always exist, and we do this through developing new stories, interacting with the public and staying true to our roots and communities while innovating and bringing new concepts to life, all in keeping with our brand identities.
What can we expect from Gates Hospitality in 2023?
Through our existing concepts, we will continue doing what we do best while welcoming fresh ideas, partnerships and collaborations. We remain committed to sustainability, as we adopt new practices across our business and functions. We have a few new openings and projects in the pipeline for this year, which are part of our expansion plans.
Beyond that, I will continue to contribute to the industry in 2023 by speaking on a variety of platforms and at numerous venues about four issues close to my heart: the cyclical economy, sustainability, human capital development and mental health.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
We will be expanding to Abu Dhabi with Folly Moo, the first concept under the Folly umbrella. It is a grillhouse that offers a classic steakhouse experience but with a contemporary touch. Our second project, Madam M, will be a casual dining concept located in The Walk, JBR. Our third concept, a rooftop pool and lounge in Garhoud, will open later in the year.