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Hospitality school to welcome its first class by late next year

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority plans to set up a hospitality school next year as part of its effort to become the Middle East's regional centre for tourism education and training.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) plans to set up a hospitality school next year as part of its effort to become the Middle East's regional centre for tourism education and training. The tourism authority has "met and held exploratory talks with seven of the world's largest and most prominent hospitality institutions", said Nasser al Reyami, the ADTA tourism standards director. "We are currently assessing their proposals and hope to make an appointment early in the new year."

The school would be open by the end of next year, he said. Abu Dhabi wants to welcome 2.3 million hotel guests a year by 2012 compared with about 1.5 million this year. Next year, the capital plans to add about 5,000 hotel rooms to its supply of 17,500. It added 4,500 rooms this year. A four-month study conducted for the ADTA this year found that a number of staff in hotels and tourism attractions who deal directly with the public lacked product knowledge and needed further training in service and sales techniques.

That issue is frequently identified as a problem by customers and employers across the Middle East. "From a service aspect much still needs to be improved," said Mr al Reyami. Most employees in the capital's tourism industry are not from Abu Dhabi and often have limited knowledge of its culture. Just 1 per cent of the capital's tourism workforce is Emirati, although the ADTA is targeting an increase to 5 per cent by 2012.

In the meantime, the ADTA will launch training courses for the industry in the first quarter of next year. They are aimed at "ensuring that all who work in the industry are fully equipped to provide the highest standards", the ADTA said. The programme includes a marketing management course, which will be held in association with the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, targeting hospitality executives and entrepreneurs to provide a basic understanding of hospitality marketing.

The ADTA last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Hong Kong Polytechnic University to help Abu Dhabi prepare for the expected surge in the number of Chinese visitors. In September, the authority began holding workshops to "enhance the guest experience" in response to the shortcomings identified in the study. They will continue next year. The ADTA will also introduce mandatory short-term training focused on front-line employees.

"We've got at least 10 more workshops during January and February alone," said Paul Ram Prakash, the ADTA industry professional development manager. "The response to this training has been overwhelming. It really shows our partners' commitment to ensuring Abu Dhabi creates the right impression on our guests." Service standards play an important role in the Abu Dhabi hotel classification system that was launched this year.

The quality of the people working in Abu Dhabi's tourism sector is what will make the capital stand out, Mr al Reyami said. rbundhun@thenational.ae

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