THE BEST OF TIMES

Sharjah 2020 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Recognizing a gap in the market is only half the path to success.

Hanan Al Mahmoud
BIOGRAPHY
Hanan Al Mahmoud is an Emirati citizen and the CEO of Al Jawaher Reception & Convention Centre, a position she has served since 2012. Her responsibilities include team recruitment and building, hospitality product and service design, business development and tie-ups, event organizing (including MICE, weddings, and galas), and financial planning. Prior to taking on this position and the launch of the center, she spent two years as project manager overseeing the pre-opening.

What have been some major highlights and changes in recent years?

Last time we talked, we were still a start-up and had only been on the market for four years. We were just breaking even and growing our workforce to cater to the increasing demand for events on the market. We are now in our sixth year of operations and have grown to a profitable stage. We have been catering almost 400 events per year, mostly corporate and social events. Each year we welcome some 150,000 satisfied clients. Our diversification is around 70% social and 30% corporate. We were created to fill a gap in the market for a venue that offers comprehensive solutions, be they weddings, engagements, or graduation ceremonies. Later, we also realized that we could contribute to the corporate sector. We have been gaining the confidence of the government and the private sector. Many organizations have hosted forums, product launches, exhibitions, and press releases here. We have expanded to outside catering as well and are catering to all of the UAE. We have signed year-long contracts for catering with some clients and are in the final stages of selecting an operator for a hotel that will stand right next to the convention center. We have also been expanding our own host of events. We realized there was a gap in the market for corporate events, such as iftar meals during Ramadan: there were simply no venues large enough to host large numbers. We also organize and construct master classes. This is why we research the market and try to build something for which there is demand. So far, we have done cooking master classes, table etiquette, table setting, and much more. These attract around 20-30 participants over a few days. It is important for us to continue growing the expertise of our culinary team. We have over 50 chefs that work in-house. We constantly push them to compete in local and international competitions. Each year they bring back around 50 medals. What's more, our executive pastry chef is a permanent member of the UAE's national culinary team.

What is your outlook for the hospitality sector in Sharjah?

This is one of the best times for the hospitality sector in Sharjah. The Emirate has always been a pioneer in the fields of culture and education. The beauty of the Emirate has been well received by tourists and has opened up doors to investing in a whole new field. With the establishment of the investment authority, there is an entity dedicated to investing and making sure tourism and infrastructure develops. We just conducted a market study, and it was exciting to see the number of hotels in the pipeline. There will be almost 10 three- or five-star hotels opening in Sharjah in the coming years. The fact that we will be a dynamic player in the market is exciting, but also a big responsibility. We need to make sure we provide what the market needs. We have to make sure the surge of new hotels does not conflict with each other in Sharjah.

What is the biggest challenge for the sector?

In the hotel business, the fact that the city is alcohol-free can be a problem. However, I am happy to see that giant international operators find a different way to make their hotels work. Sheraton has found ways to compensate for the fact it is dry with family packages, which are luring in a lot of non-Muslims. A lot of visitors, or even residents, may not think of Sharjah as their first option when they want to shop or have a staycation, but Sharjah is working around this and finding its own unique selling points.