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Home Emdad's Articles Rubbing shoulders with the elite

Rubbing shoulders with the elite

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EMDAD RAHMAN meets ATM Hafizullah, Dhaka Sheratons Director of sales and marketing

I recently interviewed ATM Hafizullah, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel. A former cashier, Hafizullah began his career in hospitality at the Sheraton 22 years ago, and has not looked back since.

The grandeur and beauty of the Dhaka Sheraton, a majestic hotel in Dhaka, evokes the magical history of the capital. Standing majestically in the city's most prestigious location, the Dhaka Sheraton Hotel is the ultimate address of traditional Bangladeshi hospitality. Modern facilities along with friendly and personalised service make it the ultimate address for international business travellers.

Located just 3 kilometres from the main business district, the city's only globally branded 5-star hotel is considered to be the perfect base for executive travellers.

At the Sheraton one can savour the best of local and international cuisine, while a host of business, convention and recreation facilities are available to satisfy the needs of casual travellers, tourists, and business executives.

In this interview, the wily veteran told me how he sees his role as a host, discusses his neighbourhood, and gives his personal recommendations for food, clothing, shops and entertainment for those of you who wish to travel to Dhaka.

"You either love or hate this job," he enthuses. "It is very demanding, and I benefited from starting at a time when there was a move to encourage people like myself into higher positions."

Hafizullah waxes lyrical about the success of an enterprise that he has for so many years been an integral part of. "Our success is no secret. I have had the pleasure of building up a very strong marketing team and the last 3-4 years has seen a significant growth in our profits.

"Statistically, the Sheraton is undisputedly the number one hotel in Bangladesh to such an extent that we are left with a commodity that seduces with its exceptional location and its refinement and offers a wide range of accommodation while retaining the intimate atmosphere of a private residence."

For many decades an international cast of the powerful and well heeled have made the Sheraton their first choice when visiting Dhaka. Its guest list has included luminaries from every possible walk of life imaginable.

"Our fully personalised service adds privilege to exclusivity" proclaims Hafizullah. Of all the hotels in Bangladesh the Sheraton is the richest in history and culture. We offer our guests Dhaka in its entirety. It is no wonder that so many Presidents and influential world leaders choose the Dhaka Sheraton as their luxury hotel in Dhaka."

Hafizullah says that he particularly likes welcoming back previous guests and the Sheraton has rather a lot of them. "We have over 50,000 'ambassadors ', that are guests who have stayed more than once, and there is a hard core group who come several times a year. It is obvious we have a very high number of returning visitors.

"Our guests usually tend to be self-made business people, political dignitaries and stars from the world of showbiz and they love to come and see what we have added to the hotel since the previous season. I just enjoy talking to them all, and that does make the hours very long here. It is not like a city hotel where you can go home at night. I have to entertain here most nights."

Hafizullah has moved around the world with in his high profile role since his latest appointment three years ago.

Installing and maintaining a world famous brand, especially one as strong and well-known as the celebrated philosophy of the Sheraton, the King of Hotels is no easy task. But Hafizullah says he is delighted to report that regular guests at the hotel have noticed the difference.

"My job as I see it is to make sure my guests receive excellent service 24/7, all year round. But a lot of competent hotel owners could say the same thing. Where each of us differ is in the approach to human contact. I like to consider myself as a host in the very meaning of the word. Someone who receives in his own home, who listens, and gives sound advice. I want my guests to love their experience in Dhaka , and I tell them what to avoid, where to go. I'm there for them in case of any problems."

Peer accolades surround Hafizullah's life and he has consecutively been awarded top ranking outstanding achievement awards in 2003 and 2004 at venues in Las Vegas and Hawaii.

Hafizullah is currently on a short visit to the UK to promote the British Bangladesh fusion food festival 2005, of which the Sheraton is a major part of. The first festival held in 2002 was a resounding success.

The current festival is jointly organised by Curry Life magazine and the Sheraton. Hafizullah feels that Bangladeshi restaurants are major players in Bangladesh's developing economy;

"No person in their right mind could ignore the efforts of expatriates" he declared.

"The UK restaurant trade, worth tens of millions is largely controlled by Bangladeshis who through sheer hard work and promotion have historically changed the eating patterns of the British people. Curry is as much a part of the culture here as fish and chips.

"Thanks to overseas investments the whole country is thriving. There is a 55% GDP growth and significant increases in per capita earning. The cycle of activities is increasing and thus more venues are required. From my standpoint this is one example where the hospitality sector is flourishing."

Hafizullah is proud of the achievements of his countrymen in the culinary field and this is why the fusion festival will showcase the best the best of British fusion cuisine.

"Dhaka Sheraton is proud to be associated with this unique food festival. Being the country's first 5 star hotel, the Sheraton has established a high reputation in international standards."

"Well, thank you for all the good addresses here. Do you have a last few recommendations for those of our readers who intend to visit Dhaka?" I ask.

"Absolutely! Walk as much as possible, you will travel faster. If you have a bit of time on your hands, stray off the beaten path and experience the beauty of Dhaka and those small pockets of its history not yet quite known.

A hack being a hack I dispense with the niceties in search of blood. "Who is the guest that has left the best impression upon you" I press him hoping for a celebrity horror story. Despite the names of one Tony Blair and artists such as Adnan Sami being mentioned I am left disappointed as Hafizullah chooses an individual of unrivalled international repute;

"Without a doubt, it has to be Nelson Mandela. Such outstanding humility, truly the mark of a true leader. I was simply awestruck by his sheer persona."

"One last personal story for our readers?" I plead.

"Sure Emdad, I love anecdotes. Once, a regular guest arrived at the hotel with his family, wife and children aged 6 and 10. They rushed through the entrance door, into the hotel. Then stopped, looked around, and shouted out: "Wow, Dad! We're in your Dhaka home!" I took that as a marvellous compliment."

Bono once said that "feelings are stronger than ideas or words in a song."

With the increasingly thriving hotel sector in Bangladesh establishments such as the Sheraton are safe under the tutelage of talented commanders like Hafizullah, who it is evident translates feelings through hospitality rather than through sheer talk.

Few people can enjoy lives that seem to come from the pages of a best selling romantic in the heart of a beautiful capital city and having dignitaries and celebrities seeking your company... taking part in daily activities that excite the imagination and the senses. During the course of our conversation the captivating Hafizullah described an atmosphere within the Dhaka Sheraton that is welcoming, stylish and, above all, "democratic."

For more information about the British Bangladesh Fusion Festival please call Syed Nahas Pasha, Editor of Curry Life Magazine: 020 7729 0999 or 07932 582 777.

Discounted hotel rooms are available only for the duration of the festival period.

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