ABU DHABI // A scheme that teaches Emiratis how to promote Abu Dhabi is in great demand, and a new course is in the pipeline for local arts and media celebrities to do the same.
More than 600 Emiratis have applied for the 50 places available in the Abu Dhabi Ambassador Programme for next year.
The number of applicants represents a surge in interest in the course since the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) pioneered the initiative in 2007 as a joint venture with Reed Exhibitions and Zayed University.
The aim was to give the Zayed University tourism, marketing and communications students the skills and knowledge to be exemplary “ambassadors” for the emirate in their interaction with visitors.
This year, employees from 44 government and semi-government bodies took part, as well as workers from six organisations in the private sector.
By yesterday there had been 622 applicants for a course starting in February, and all will be interviewed before the final 50 are chosen. There will 100 participants in the overall programme, with the second 50 already nominated by government departments.
The two main 50-student courses will run from February to May.
“It would seem the programme has really captured the Emirati imagination and that opening it up to the private sector has stimulated demand,” said Nasser Al Reyami, the tourism standards director, at TCA Abu Dhabi.
The programme, which covers areas including etiquette, information on tourist attractions and the emirate’s past, present and future, has also caught the attention of celebrities.
As a result, a shorter, more-intensive “fast-track” course aimed at educating personalities from the arts and media sector will also run next year.
It is designed for singers, composers, actors, poets and TV presenters, said Mohammed Al Marzouqi, senior tourism industry Emiratisation executive at the TCA’s tourism standards division.
He pointed out that artists represent the country at both local and international events.
“So it is important also for us that they get the ambassadors’ knowledge. We get them upscaled, so they represent us in the right way,” he said.
Mr Al Marzouqi said celebrities themselves had approached the authority about such a course.
A second “fast-track” programme will target immigration personnel working in passport control at Abu Dhabi’s ports and airports.
“These are the people that are the first contact with the tourist or guest as they come to Abu Dhabi, so we need to give them the programme so they understand the importance of these visitors and the importance of the tourism and culture sector, and how important it is to participate in this,” Mr Al Marzouqi said.
The programme already has 277 graduates and graduands – 98 from this year’s class are set to graduate in a special ceremony on January 7 at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers.
As well as playing a role in events such as Formula One Grand Prix racing on Yas Island, the ambassadors have represented Abu Dhabi abroad, said Mr Al Reyami.
“It has been a key part of our industry Emiratisation programme, and also our desire to improve the visitor experience through interaction with locals,” he said.
“By becoming a host, guide or ambassador, UAE nationals promote the emirate’s rich culture and history to visitors and tourists and leave them with positive memories and impressions of Abu Dhabi and its people. The programme also increases awareness of Abu Dhabi’s tourism offering among the ambassadors’ ranks as they get to visit various heritage, cultural and tourism sites across the entire emirate.”
Mr Al Marzouqi believes the programme will help with Emiratisation.
“Many of the UAE nationals in the community, they are not aware about the importance here of the tourism and culture sector.
“This programme created awareness for these people and it changed their attitude and also their mind, so now they are more aware and many of them applied to work in the tourism and culture sector,” he said.