UAE National Ahmed Ramdan is well known in the UAE hospitality industry and a familiar face in Hotelier’s Power 50. Prior to setting up his consultancy in 1998, Ramdan held several roles in the business, including GM of InterContinental Dubai Creek (now Radisson) and a regional role for IHG based in Dubai. He recalls the impact of hotels on the lifestyle of people living in the UAE in the 1970's and 1980's.
“As far as UAE Nationals are concerned, working in hotels was not really acceptable – hotels were associated with bars and alcohol and drinking and when I went to study and work in a hotel, people, including my own father, were not very welcoming of the idea. I wanted to be different; I am a non-conformist!
In the 70s and 80s the UAE had very little international chains; initially it started with some of the local hotels running their own very small hotels [the first of which was the Airlines Hotel in Dubai in 1959]. The first international hotel chain to open in Dubai was InterContinental in 1975 – on the creek, followed by Sheraton, Hilton.
Hotels were like community centres, an attraction, being a GM of a hotel you had kind of a name. If you wanted to go to a gym, you would have needed to have been a member of one of the hotels. Hotels played very important roles with their health club, functions and food and beverage, because they provided a different type of ‘eatertainment’. Give credit to the hotels — they brought lots of stylish, high-grade products, to the market. Exhibitions in Dubai started in hotels because of the large ballrooms and then extended further. Even big weddings were encouraged by the hotels — before that people used to marry very differently. There was a lot of airline stopovers here so crew accommodation was very important. That was another thing they contributed.
It was in 1989 when Dubai really committed itself to tourism and things picked up dramatically. Hotels started to segment in 92/93 after the Iraq war when the business boomed again. The war created awareness of where we are and importance of the Gulf. Soon after the war stopped I remember we increased the prices of the hotels by three times because of the huge demand."