Melody Xiang from the Zhejiang province of China will this week celebrate Chinese New Year away from home for the first time.
As the festival approaches, the waitress at the five-star Ibn Battuta Gate hotel in Dubai admits she tends to get homesick. But it is a small sacrifice to work in the UAE hotel, which is managed by Moevenpick.
"Every Chinese person has this kind of dream when they are young," Ms Xiang, 22, says. "They want to go overseas. They're curious."
She has been in the emirate six months and this is her first job in the hospitality industry after studying hotel management at college.
Ms Xiang explains that as well as the adventure of living abroad, she also hopes to fast-track her career in the Emirates.
"China is crowded now," she says. "Dubai is famous for hospitality. Here it is easier to get better chances."
She is one of thousands of Chinese staff that hotels across the Emirates have recruited as her homeland becomes a growing source of tourists to the UAE.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi have seen a surge in the number of Chinese tourists in the past year after the UAE gained "approved destination" status from the Chinese government in 2009. Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival as it is known, starts tomorrow, and it will bring an increase in arrivals to the Emirates.
Follow our Business tweets - twitter.com/biznationaluae
Attracting Chinese tourists is becoming big business across the globe. About 47.5 million tourists from the dragon economy travelled in 2009, representing an increase of 3.6 per cent on 2008. The UN World Tourism Organization predicts there will be 100 million outbound travellers from China by 2020. Spending by Chinese tourists last year was up 17 per cent to US$43.7 billion (Dh160.5bn).
This surge has meant that hotels in the UAE are increasingly recruiting Chinese staff, which involves travelling to the country to find the right employees.
Dara Pinke, a director of human resources at Moevenpick Hotels & Resorts, last year went to destinations across Africa, the Middle East and Asia to recruit personnel, including Ms Xiang, for the Ibn Battuta Gate, which opened in October, and the new Moevenpick Deira in Dubai.
Ms Pinke spent more than a week in China, visiting four cities, including Shanghai and Jinan, to take on fresh graduates from the country's top hospitality schools.
"With Chinese New Year coming up we're expecting 1,000 room nights and the Chinese market will probably be in our top five for the hotel in 2011," she says. "With that in mind we have 60 Chinese employees across Ibn Battuta and the Deira hotel. When you have people who not only speak great English, but also speak other languages to support tour groups or conferences, it really makes guests a lot more comfortable to stay in your hotel."
Before going to China, as part of the recruitment process, a local agent filters the candidates to select those who are most suitable.
The Ibn Battuta Gate, which has 53 nationalities on its staff, employs Chinese across the range of housekeeping to food and beverage.
"I think China has become more open as an employment market," says Ms Pinke. "There's always a phase with a destination where they start to learn about Dubai and then they start to become adventurous about going there. We met so many students who wanted to come out here because Dubai has developed this reputation of being a hospitality [draw]."
Dubai saw a 57 per cent increase in the number of Chinese hotel guests staying there, which reached 81,932 in the first half of last year, data from the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing show.
Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, last year saw a 27 per cent increase in the number of Chinese guests in the first 11 months of the year compared wih the same period in 2009. About 13,586 hotel guests stayed in the emirate between January and November last year, according to figures from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.
New hotels in the capital have also recognised the importance of the market. "We have a plan to travel to China to hire staff," says Hagop Doghramadjian, the general manager of the luxury Rocco Forte hotel, which is scheduled to open in Abu Dhabi in June and will start recruiting 400 staff in March.
Mr Doghramadjian says it is relatively easy to find the right employees. "There is no challenge today. It used to be. The biggest challenge was English as a language. But today, after the economic boom they've been through and the number of hotels they've opened in Shanghai and Beijing, China today is offering extraordinary staff, with very good English, extremely well-trained."
Hotels, meanwhile, are increasing the proportion of Chinese employees to meet the growing demand.
"In terms of our recruitment strategy, east Asia, and in particular China and Korea are key areas that we target," says Arshad Hussain, the director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi. "In the case of the former, the brand is gaining awareness with iconic properties including the Peace Hotel in Shanghai, Fairmont Yangcheng Lake in Kunshan and Fairmont Beijing. As such, we attract recruits that have some knowledge of our brand."