From humble dishwasher to high-flying CEO

MUSCAT, JULY 23 – If there is ever a poster-child for Oman’s hospitality industry — a sector widely tipped to be a major employer of young Omani men and women — then Mundher Alshikhani, a consummate hotel industry veteran, would fit the bill hands down! After all, Mundher’s success story is inspirational on many levels. Not only did he reach the pinnacle of corporate success in the hospitality industry — becoming a CEO at the youthful age of 30 — but perhaps most laudably, he began his illustrious career as a lowly dishwasher — a profession that while still disdained by many among his compatriots proved to be a career-defining experience.
“I found no shame in cleaning dishes in a hotel in Australia at the start of my career in hospitality some 15 years ago,” Mundher recalls. “I took pride in what I was doing. After all, in a place like Australia where I spent eight years of my life, there is dignity even in menial jobs. Whether you work as a dishwasher or a corporate CEO, you are equal in the eyes of the society.” Indeed, it was precisely this entry level stint as a humble kitchen worker that provided Mundher with the professional and mental fortitude to aspire for greater success. Working his way up, he soon became a waiter, then onward to a concierge and the front desk before he eventually joined the hotel chain’s sales department — a transition that spanned a total of eight years, he says.

Mundher Alshikhani

Career trajectory
But hard work alone was not the only contributory factor to his meteoric rise, says Mundher. “I learnt at a very young age to take charge of my life without being dependent on others,” the hotelier explains. “Much credit goes to my mother, who mentored me. She gave me the opportunity to do my schooling abroad, before I flew off to India to study hotel management.”
Life in cosmopolitan Australia also proved to be a positive, if sobering, influence on the teenager. “I was just 18 when I arrived in Australia,” Mundher reminisces. “It was an eye-opener for someone like me who was coddled all his life. I saw young people of my age being quite independent and doing their own chores. That got me thinking! I decided to be independent and pay for my own upkeep. My perspective on life changed altogether from that moment onward!”
Over the ensuing eight years, Mundher found himself working for some of Australia’s biggest and most prestigious luxury hotel brands, notably The Stanford, Hilton, and InterContinental. Then came a career-boosting role: the opportunity to personally oversee the opening of the 5-star Emporium Hotel, part of a local Australian hotel chain. The launch was a splendid success.
“My career took off exponentially at this point! I was the go-to expert for new property launches. Over a 12-year span, I oversaw the opening of nine properties across leading brands like Fairmont, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, and so on, in Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Typically, it meant putting together a complete plan to take a brand new property through to full-scale commercial operation — a process that usually takes about three years to achieve.”

New properties
Not long thereafter, Mundher was tapped by leading brands to commission new properties in international destinations. “I was deployed to London, Istanbul and Paris for periods ranging for three to six months, basically to oversee the opening of new hotels.”
Another turning point in his career came in 2015 when Mundher was appointed CEO of a Dubai-based hospitality industry start-up called ‘Leading Vacation’. He was just 30.
Leading Vacation, Mundher explains, provided bespoke tourism and hospitality services to the global elite. “When I joined Leading Vacation, which is essentially a luxury lifestyle services provider, the concept was new to the market. It provides, for example, private jet, yacht and exclusive hotel services to wealthy clients, such as royals, business magnates and celebrities. There was initial scepticism about whether the company would succeed commercially, but in three years, it was a roaring success. A major Saudi investor bought up the business, but I chose to move on to begin a new chapter in my professional life.”

Homecoming
Earlier this year, Mundher returned to his native Oman to put his prodigious experience and industry knowhow for the advancement of the Sultanate’s tourism and hospitality industry. He joined national carrier Oman Air as the head of its Oman Air Holidays unit.
Mundher’s appointment comes at a crucial juncture in the sector’s development. Oman’s travel and hospitality sector has been identified as a key thrust area for investment and development, given its potential to fuel economic development as well as create thousands of jobs for young Omanis.
As the head of Oman Air Holidays, Mundher has a broad set of responsibilities and tasks. Chief among them is the goal to ramp up satisfaction levels among tourists, support destination marketing and management initiatives, structure attractive holiday packages for both inbound and outbound travellers, and support efforts to boost traffic on sectors operated by the national carrier.
Mundher is also keen to support efforts to promote Oman as a year-round tourist destination based on its unique seasonal attributes. The industry veteran sees, for example, immense potential to market Oman’s mountain hotspots in the north, among other attractions, during the summer.
Likewise, adventure holidays centring on relatively cooler locales in the north and south of the Sultanate are promising as well, he adds.

Conrad Prabhu