Thu, 02 May 2019
Meeting up with the affable, charming and indefatigable Abdul Rahim Al Sayed at his office in the Golden Tulip Hotel recently, provided an opportunity to delve into Bahrain’s history of hospitality.
As he looks back at his career and ponders the possibility of retirement, Abdul Rahim reflects on his 40 years in the hotel industry.
A former Bahrain international footballer, plucked from relative obscurity to receive training in the telecommunication and hospitality industries, Abdul Rahim was the second ever Bahraini national (after Mohamed Buzizi) to assume the position of general manager at a Manama hotel in 1981.
“To be perfectly honest,” he states, “I entered the hotel field by mistake. I used to work for Cable & Wireless and had an assistant called Jaffer with whom I worked very closely.” Unbeknown to Abdul Rahim, Jaffer decided to apply on both their behalves for a hotel manager’s training position at the Delmon Hotel which, at that time, was one of the most luxurious outlets in Bahrain.
Jaffer was never in the running for the advertised role but Abdul Rahim was chosen after a series of interviews. The selection process wasn’t the end of it though, since the British personnel manager expressed disapproval about Abdul Rahim’s dress sense. When the hotel owner, who happened to be the late Majid Zayani, heard about the rejection, he called Abdul Rahim to his office and offered him BD200 to purchase a brand new suit to solve the problem.
“I was shy to accept this extremely kind gesture and therefore I initially refused his kind offer but eventually agreed to take the money on the understanding that it would be treated as a loan; deducted from my salary over several months,” he remembers.
As a local sports celebrity at the time, Abdul Rahim did have the privilege of mixing with the likes of international World Cup footballers Pele and Santos, who happened to be on a Gulf tour soon after he started work at the Delmon Hotel. Naturally, he managed to convince them to stay at his establishment.
Impressed by his initiative and seeing his future potential, Mr Zayani decided to send the young man to Cornell University in the USA for a hospitality management course at his own expense. On Abdul Rahim’s return, he was offered the position of assistant training manager at the hotel. He was then offered practical training at the Chelsea Holiday Inn, next to Harrods, in London; which was also owned by the Zayani family.
After further training overseas, Abdul Rahim was again promoted to assistant general manager and, soon after, Rashid Zayani charged him to train his son for a career in the hotel industry. On his first day at work, the young novice arrived well-dressed and ‘raring to go’. “When he arrived on the second day dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, I had no option but to discipline him,” he recalls. To this day, when chairing meetings with hoteliers and explaining that his knowledge of the industry is more than just superficial, HE Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Industry, Commerce & Tourism, often refers to this experience with Abdul Rahim Al Sayed, who gave him his first warning letter!
“Over my four decades in the industry, I’ve trained Bahrainis as they have the right to be trained, in order to ensure them the opportunity of promotion,” he says. “I was once called to the police station due to a case lodged by one of my employees who was upset that I was forcing him to study. As far as I was concerned, it was his luck that I was trying to help him to improve himself. He eventually resigned though,” laughs Abdul Rahim.
In conclusion, he reflects on the challenges faced by Bahrain’s tourism sector. Increased competition amongst local hotels combined with liberalisation in Saudi Arabia is not helping the local market situation and young hotel GMs have to be prepared for a tougher life. His major regret is that on his departure, only one Bahraini general manager will remain.