Laxman is easily one of the most amiable people you'll ever meet. I was introduced to him when I pulled in to the car park at JA Hatta Fort Hotel, ready for a weekend staycation. All smiles, Laxman – who has worked at the property since the early 1980s – came rushing over to the car to greet me and take my bag. "Welcome," he said enthusiastically. "Have you been here before?" I had, but not since the hotel had been renovated, I told him. "It's so beautiful now," he told me with a proud grin.
How he began his journey in Dubai
Born in the Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra, India, Laxman moved to the Middle East in June 1981. He immediately joined the JA Resorts & Hotels team, starting at Jebel Ali Hotel in Dubai, before moving to JA Hatta Fort Hotel, where he began his career as a gardener. He remembers his first day well. "I had arrived from Jebel Ali Hotel and started working the next day. As I was working as outsourced labour, we had not been given uniforms and had to wear our own clothes.
"Back then, we stayed outside in a tent near the road repair workers and their machinery. Imagine, about 22 people for the garden and 400 people from the road repair company staying in one tent. But I knew there were better opportunities waiting for me, so I kept pushing and working hard, and eventually grew with the company."
In November 1987, Laxman was promoted to work in the rooms. In October 1991, he became a bellboy. In 2007, his job title changed to senior concierge agent, a role he’s remained in ever since. When he joined, there were only 28 rooms. “Now we have 52 rooms and two villas, and a bigger and beautiful garden.”
It's his most recent role that's made him happiest. "I love to assist guests, and to welcome and speak to them," he says. "I love being able to give then a warm welcome after a long and tiring journey, and improve their mood." He certainly improved my mood that first day. Even though I'd only driven over from The Greens, Laxman is just the kind of man you want to stay and chat to for a while; he's not only a well of information, but also eloquent, kind and extremely humble. And I'm certainly not alone in being impressed; countless TripAdvisor users mention him in their positive reviews of the property. When asked what the most fulfilling part of his job is, Laxman says it's the comments he gets from repeat guests that keep him motivated. Most of all, "it has to be seeing guests and families grow".
Now, as the time has come for Laxman to retire, he reminisces on the past three decades. There are moments he’ll never forget, like the time he was asked to help the room-service team prepare food, because the hotel was so busy and a few of the chefs were off.
As for his most memorable moment, that came recently: when he received an award from the company for 35 years of service. “I felt admiration and respect from everyone in the room,” he says proudly. That’s something I noticed during my stay, too; the rest of the hotel staff clearly revere him. The manager even made a point of formally introducing us.
"Fortunately, I had some cross-training to help me," he says. He's also tended to a few famous faces over the years. "Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed was our regular guest, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, singer Asha Bhosle, Sheikh Al Nuaimi …" But when it comes to weird and wonderful requests, he can't pinpoint just one: "There have been so many," he says. "I do know that whatever the request is, I do my very best to go above and beyond."
Although that might change. "Believe it or not, I wanted to be a businessman in Dubai [before joining the hotel] knowing of the many opportunities here. Who knows, maybe I will be reborn as a Dubai business tycoon." He's already planning his next stay at the hotel, too. "It might be strange not having to welcome guests, though," he exclaims. "I will miss all the people, guests and colleagues, who have been there for me throughout my journey here," he says, adding that he plans to move back to India and engage with his local community. "I was fortunate to have travelled to and work in Dubai to help my family financially, and so I would really focus on helping and assisting my community back home to have similar opportunities."
While Laxman has already left his mark on the people and the property in Hatta, he also leaves this parting advice, for anyone who might want to follow in his footsteps in the UAE hospitality industry: “Work hard so that results get better and better and, in any role, just be kind and friendly.” And that’s Laxman in a nutshell.