General Manager, Fairmont Dubai, UAE
It’s been another big year for oil, but then again, when hasn’t it? Lucky for select nations in the Persian Gulf basin, humanity can’t get enough of that sweet black goop. That’s translated into a tidal wave of money and people pouring into the region. Dubai is now the most populated emirate in the UAE, but surprisingly, only a tiny percentage of its GDP comes from oil.
“It’s estimated the oil is going to run out in the next 10 years,” says Kamal Naamani, the affable new general manager of the Fairmont Dubai. “But Dubai is diversifying its economy so it doesn’t have to rely on the oil sector. Oil revenues currently contribute to just 10 per cent of the economy.” The Jebel Ali Free Zone, which grants tax benefits to corporations, and a booming tourism trade, are what drives the dizzying amount of new business to the area. Today, massive development contracts are tossed around like bags of peanuts at Wrigley Field.
Luxury hotels have recently sprouted, with many, many more in the works — including a Jules Verne-esque underwater hotel called Hydropolis. Indeed, Dubai is poised to become the world’s number-one desert playground, a crown Las Vegas has worn since the 1960s. “There are some similarities, but in terms of numbers, when all the projects planned are completed, Dubai will overshadow Vegas by a long shot,”
says Naamani proudly.
Back in 1977, when the modern-day Dubai was just a twinkle in its sheik’s eye, Naamani was studying architecture in Toronto. “I was moonlighting at The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto as a part-time employee. But I fell in love with the hotel lifestyle and decided to attend hotel school instead.”
After graduating from Ryerson’s resort and restaurant management program, Naamani went to work, eventually landing at the Fairmont Banff Springs in 1993. When the Fairmont Dubai opened in 2001, he was named hotel manager, with more than 20 years of industry experience, 10 spent managing Fairmont hotel and resort properties.
The 394-room Fairmont Dubai is a mixed-use property, housing guest rooms, offices and apartments. Geared towards the corporate traveller, its fabulously appointed rooms, Willow Stream spa and gourmet dining, make it a desert oasis for leisure travellers
Yet with so many trendy destination properties, Naamani says managing hotels in Dubai comes with its own unique challenges. “The diversity of the guests here teaches you to be creative and exposes you to many cultures,” he says. “It requires you to shift your thinking and operating practices to accommodate the different types of guests you’re hosting at different times of the year. Hotels in Canada tend to be less adventurous.”
After merging with Raffles early last year, Fairmont is now focused on penetrating global markets. “The partnership puts us in key cities essential for international growth,” says Naamani. With incredible projects such as Fairmont’s resort and residences in the spectacular Palm Island development, Naamani says the city is only going to get bigger and better. “Dubai is set to become one of the most incredible destinations for business or pleasure in the world.”