Dato’ Sri Mohammed Shaheen Shah Mohd Sidek, founder and managing director of Ri-Yaz Group was recently awarded the Entrepreneur of The Year in Tourism & Hospitality at the SEBA 2022: Northern Editon for his efforts in recovering his business after the pandemic struck in 2020. Hailing from Ipoh, Perak, Shaheen pursued a degree in hotel management at Cesar Ritz College in Switzerland before moving to New York to work for the prestigious Marriott International. At the same time when he was working for the 2,500-room hotel, Shaheen graduated with an MBA at Cornell University.
A few years later, Shaheen returned to Malaysia to take up an instrumental role at Pan Pacific KLIA hotel (later rebranded as ‘Sama-Sam’) under the Pan Pacific Hotels Group. At that time, Shaheen had to handle the opening of the then-brand-new hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), the retail side of KLIA in 1998, and the Sepang International Circuit which hosted the Formula One races.
When he was 28, Shaheen was appointed the General Manager (GM) at Cyberjaya Resort and Spa, being one of the first local GMs for a five-star hotel, as most of the GMS were expatriates at the time. He later realized that Malaysia lacked a world-class hotel brand that is genuinely Malaysian to showcase our hospitality to tourists all over the world. Furthermore, Shaheen wanted to open up opportunities for Malaysians to become GMS in five-star properties in Malaysia.
Shaheen then established Ri-Yaz Group which firstly managed hospitality assets for clients such as Cyberview Resort and Spa and later the Ri-Yaz Heritage Resort and Spa in Terengganu. Soon after, Ri-Yaz Group launched their Dash brand which introduced three hotels – Dash Seminyak, Bali, Dash Box Hotel Cyberjaya, and Dash Resort Langkawi. The decision to buy properties and open up hotels came from a recommendation from Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Manaf, a partner and chairman of RIYAZ. He said that owning hotels will make it easier for hotel owners to gain confidence to manage their assets.
However, when the pandemic struck, Ri-Yaz Group had to sell some of their property shares in Bali and a piece of land near KLCC where they were in the midst of building a 23-storey hotel. They had to generate more income to operate the hotel without income to ensure that staff could keep their jobs. Without guests, the employees still cleaned and maintained the hotel as usual so that the hotel would not need to undergo maintenance after the pandemic. Unlike many competitors, Shaheen was able to open and receive guests immediately as the hotels did not need time to air out the rooms, rehire any staff nor clean the premises.
After the borders were finally reopened in the last quarter of 2021, the government announced that Langkawi would become a top tourist destination for international tourists as well as local tourists. Many flocked after a long wait behind closed doors. The international travel bubble worked extremely well in Shaheen’s favor as Ri-Yaz Group’s business went up by 25 percent in comparison to the pre-pandemic days. They were also able to roll out their sunset cruise package which was popular among local guests as they were able to sightsee around the island.
Shaheen owes his success to his mother especially since his first ambition was to become a lawyer. However, his mom said that hotel management would be a better fit for him as he was obsessed with hotels and hotel management as a kid. While everyone else was interested in sightseeing, Shaheen loved to wander around the hotel to observe the employees and guests.