It s hard to believe that ever since the Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino opened its doors 28 years ago, there have been only two general managers at its helm. Rare and unique, the property is the largest hotel in Marriott’s International hotel portfolio, leaving a lasting impression on its visitors who simply keep coming back.
Last December, Richard Zeolla took the reigns to become the third general manager of Cairo s historic property.
Moving with his wife and three children, Zeolla jokingly describes the transition as moving to the “bigger desert from the desert island of Aruba, where he moved in the summer of 2003.
“This property specifically is an icon within our company and it’s only had two leaders in the 28 years that [Marriott] has run it so the opportunity to work here doesn’t come often, said Zeolla.
“For my career to progress there are two main regions that I haven’t been around, these are the Middle East-Africa and Asia, I could have gone to either but I wanted to continue to broaden the places I’ve lived in so that I would continue to grow as a professional, he explained.
Zeolla has been to Egypt twice before, the first with his wife in 1992 and the second in 2002 with his entire family.
His career with Marriott began at the Oklahoma City Marriott Hotel in 1985. Subsequently, Zeolla held various positions in the finance departments in the United States, Bermuda, and Europe before his promotion to Resident Manager of the Warsaw Marriott Hotel in 1999.
Before Aruba he was the first General Manager of the Bucharest Marriott Grand Hotel, which opened in 2000. During his work there he received the “Leadership Award 2002 as well as the award for Special “General Manager of the Year due to his active role in the community.
“Our core philosophy as a company is really simple, we take care of our associates, our associates take care of our customers, our customers have a great time and they keep coming back and that takes care of the business side. We call it the loyalty circle and that has been our culture for [more than] 80 years, Zeolla explains.
In his third month into the new job, Zeolla is getting acclimated with the property itself, although he recently started to get out a little bit to meet people outside after spending first months focusing on internal work.
He already has plans and goals set. “First, we’ve got great associates here but I like to see our service levels elevated, we’ve got a palace here and the experience a guest has when they come here should reflect a palatial type treatment, Zeolla said.
The second plan he is working on involves improving the physical aspects of the space. “We want to bring the palace back to its glory; we’ve got some fantastic artifacts here and antiquities that are scattered around the property and not obvious to a visitor so we want to highlight them, making sure people know what they’re looking at, he noted.
In addition, they are also planning to add a spa and renovate the renowned Marriott Garden.
Changes people should expect within the upcoming period involve Harry’s Pub, Roy’s, Saraya Café and the Zamalek entrance.
When asked about the criteria when hiring people, Zeolla had one word, “Smiles.
“Our team can train anybody to do anything, I would trade some technical skills for a better personality, he explained.
Zeolla believes that the strongest way to promote the hotel is by word of mouth.
“I get one opportunity to give you a good experience, after that if the rest of the team didn’t take care of you all my advertising dollars are lost, he said.
“I tell the associates that the sales and public relations may get people here one time after that it’s up to you, he added.
Zeolla was an active member of several professional associations in the many countries he lived in. He became a Board Member of “Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association in 2004, the association’s treasurer in 2007 and finally the Chairman in 2009.
Simultaneously, he was a Board Member of the “Caribbean Hotel Association from 2004 to 2009 in addition to being the Chairman of Marriott Caribbean Business Council in 2004 as well. He also served on the Board of the American School in Bucharest, Romania.