Moussa El Hayek Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ Gulf News

Please elaborate on the service portfolio of the Al Bustan Centre and Residence.

Al Bustan Centre & Residence is a self-contained complex. The Residence boast of a 640 rooms & suites and facilities including Tennis Court, Gym and Swimming pool. The shopping mall which has carved a name as fashion destination for women mainly locals and from GCC and also from international , it comprises 85 shops focusing mainly on wedding gowns and party dresses, beauty & wellness clinic as well as other retail stores which meets the needs of the community. We also manage the Food Court and other F&B outlets, also we have banquet halls which can accommodate up to 200 guests.

Al Bustan Centre & Residence also expands its reach and boosts its brand image by participating in relevant local and international industry exhibitions and trade shows.

Q: You are as much a brand as Al Bustan Centre itself. Please share some history of your association with the Centre an the UAE for our readers.

I started my journey with Al Bustan Centre in 1996, a year before its official launch in 1997. In fact, we are celebrating Al Bustan Centre’s 25th anniversary this year and it gives me immense pleasure to see how it has flourished and grown, as has the team that helmed it.

I personally, have long been associated with the hospitality industry with up to 45 years of experience in hotel operations, which expands from regional to international hotel chains across the GCC. In this period, I have spent 38 years in the UAE, of which 25 years have been devoted to the Al Bustan Centre & Residence, where I have been head of the founding team as a General Manager. Eventually, after 11 years I was promoted as Chief Operating Officer and was appointed in 2007 until present.

It was definitely a challenge for the owners to imagine and later realise such a mammoth project in those early days. However, we have been fortunate that the project has stood the test of time. Of these 25 years, the first five years and the last few years have been the most challenging in terms of growth. While the initial years were spent establishing the brand, the last few years presented obstacles in the form of the pandemic. However, I am pleased to note that the management rallied around and helped the Centre maintain its growth trajectory even as we managed to retain staff despite the challenges thrown our way by Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown.

I was fortunate when my association with the UAE was made even stronger when I received the 10-year Golden Visa, and I would like to take this opportunity to show my gratitude and appreciation to the Leaders of the UAE and the Government for having granted me this honour.

Q: As a corporate leader, how much in your view has the business changed for your vertical and how has your brand evolved to stay in step?

I can take pride in the fact that my team has always been future oriented, with the result that our brand has always managed to stay ahead of the curve. Dubai and the UAE have been constantly evolving and the market mix has obviously changed since we started operations 25 years ago, to stay in step with this constant evolution. The good thing is we realised all this early on and decided to diversify instead of getting stuck servicing any one niche vertical.

For instance, up until 2005 we catered mostly to visitors from the GCC markets, as well as airline crews. After this period, Dubai really opened up and started hosting a lot of business travellers. Noticing this trend, we decided to start servicing the free independent travel (FIT) sector as well, resulting in the creation of our Club and Executive Lounge room. We also started hosting a lot of tourists from Russia and East Europe. At one time we had block bookings for up to 300 rooms for our Russian guests alone.

Again, at the time when other hotel properties were not doing as well, we used to have up to 500 rooms booked on a daily basis. We were also the perfect solution for families. The Al Bustan Centre, for instance kept the needs of children in mind when it launched Fantasy Kingdom, the largest indoor amusement centre in the Middle East at the time, and that covered 24,000 sq ft. Initiatives such as these helped forge a bond between the Centre and its guests, helping build a community, and goodwill for the long term.

Q: Provide a bird’s eye perspective on how you see your sector evolving over the next decade and the part your organisation will play in this evolution?

The UAE and Dubai have evolved, as have entire new neighbourhoods such as Downtown and Marina, becoming the new lifestyle addresses for the Emirate, while also being promoted as self-sustained communities. Despite this, the Al Bustan Centre continues to retain the goodwill of its clientele as well as the market share it commanded early on. In this regard, we have been fortunate to be part of a neighbourhood that also houses one of the world’s busiest airports, Dubai Terminal 3, as well as the airport free zone, all of major business drivers for the hospitality industry. And with Dubai’s emphasis on promoting heritage, the charm of old Dubai will never fade, and we at the Al Bustan Centre are glad to be a part of this narrative.

Dubai is also a global voice for people of determination and frequently conducts regional and global seminars to address their concerns, while also hosting initiatives such as global sports meets. The Al Bustan Centre, in sync with the Dubai Government, endeavoured to modify several rooms to meet the requirements of people of determination. This, for instance allowed the Centre to host up to 450 delegates participating in the Dubai 2022 World Archery Para Championships for people of determination last month. All this proves that while needs are constantly evolving in Dubai, we are in step with change.

Q: How are you mentoring your staff to be a leader like you? As a regional corporate icon, what advice do you have for those interested in the hospitality sector, as well as entrepreneurs in general?

Firstly, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have a resilient team to help realise a company’s vision. An organisation is only as good as the team that drives and supports its ambitions. Most of my management team started and was honed at Al Bustan Centre & Residence between 15 to 25 years including the General Manager, Director of Human Resources, Mall Manager, Rooms Division Manager and Reservations and Revenue Manager.

This seasoned workforce has been part of the growth story of the brand from the early years. Truly, those who work with passion and are dedicated to their job, focusing not only on professional advancement but on organisational success, are rewarded with leadership roles.

For those entering the profession, my advice to them would be to not only work hard to build their network and connections but also lay the groundwork to create a solid team that will help their organisation realise its goals. l