Five minutes with… Mazen El Zein, CEO And Founder, Crystal Group

Mazen El Zein, CEO and founder of Crystal Group, shares his insight into the UAE nightlife scene and the company’s planned venue launches this year.

How was Crystal Group started?

We started in 2003, with our first outlet, which was the Crystal Club in Beirut, and we have since developed a large portfolio of lifestyle, hospitality and food and beverage products, which include beach clubs restaurants, bars, lounges and obviously nightclubs. Our headquarters were in Beirut but we moved them to Dubai two years ago and we have downsized our exposure in Lebanon due to political instability while increasing and overweighting our development in the UAE.

In between we opened two international outlets, Crystal London and Crystal Beach in St Tropez.

Did you downsize in Lebanon because there was less of an opportunity there?

We reduced our exposure in Lebanon but we still have an office there and we still have a few outlets there. We’re not investing in any new projects for the time being but it remains our home base and we look at this market as a great opportunity as soon as the consequences of the Syrian war are reduced and there is more stability in Beirut.

What is your general perception of the UAE night leisure market?

The UAE nightlife market has really been booming the last three to four years now. We ‘ve witnessed many newcomers coming, including international brands, and regional brands and there are many players interested by this market which has witnessed incredible growth. I fear now we have reached a level where there is a sort of bubble in the nightlife.

Too many clubs, bars and lounges are opening, which might cause the bubble to burst, I can’t tell exactly when, but it has led us to have a more cautious approach when it comes to new ventures and projects.

Have too many venues opened, spreading the market too thinly?

Yes but I don’t think all of the segments of the market are thin, there are still great opportunities and a lot of gaps that need to be filled. Many have focussed on a certain area or a certain segment of the market and this is where you can see saturation, but in general there is room for growth. There is room for opportunities but you need to be very picky.

How has Crystal Group adjusted its strategy in light of these market trends?

Our company is one of the first real players to invest in the nightlife scene in Dubai. We’ve been here since 2005, and we’ve always followed the trends in the market. We had a small place initially with C-bar in Al Murooj Rotana, then in 2009 we opened a much bigger venue with People By Crystal in the Raffles Hotel.

Now we’re opening in Abu Dhabi in St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and we are also planning to open a beach club at the Rixos Hotel in September

We’re looking at the open-air segment of lounges and clubs, and filling other gaps in the market in terms of target clients and types of music, as well as greater geographical diversification.

Most of the clubs if you look at the map are located at this end of town [Downtown] not many things are happening in other areas.

What is your opinion on the Abu Dhabi market compared to Dubai, are there less venues and so more opportunity?

It’s definitely less competitive but at the same time it’s a smaller market, a much smaller market in terms of nightlife. I would probably say that the nightlife scene in Abu Dhabi today is what was Dubai when we first opened C-bar in 2005.

Does the Abu Dhabi night scene have the potential to become what Dubai is now?

There is growth potential, it won’t take seven or nine years it will be much quicker until we see the completion of many of the big projects, especially in the area in which we’re opening on Saadiyat Island.

Are you looking at other markets in the GCC or Middle East?

We have recently signed a contract in Casablanca, Morocco, for a big resort that will open in May. We’re looking at a new brand over there. We will also be looking to expand to Qatar eventually.

Then there is our Lebanese restaurant brand, Em Sherif, we have signed the rights for several countries in the Arab world and will be looking also at Egypt and probably continue our expansion in Morocco.

How would you describe your management style?

The key words of our management are true moments. This is what we try to create. How do we try to create that? By having a complete area of services that make the experience unforgettable. Behind the philosophy of our management are always research and the search for creativity and innovation, being always a pioneer in the market

What words define success?

90 per cent luck and 10 per cent hard work.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

I love reading, movies and books are my big passion, I’m trying to explore a new one, which is sports, but not very successfully at the moment. I also like having time on my own because you’re very much exposed into having a very open social life in my business, so I try to have as much privacy as possible.