ABU DHABI // A new wave of Emirati students celebrated their graduation yesterday from a summer camp that teaches the importance of tourism.
From a range of schools across Abu Dhabi, 115 pupils took part in the three-week project, which took them to visit Al Ain Zoo, Etihad Airways and Ferrari World, among other attractions.
Created by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) as a means of increasing the number of Emiratis working in the tourism sector, the third Abu Dhabi Tourism Youth Summer Camp was a welcome surprise for Amnah Al Suwaidi, 15, who will enter the Applied Technology High School later this year.
"My mother saw an advert for this but I backed down, twice, until my brother joined. I thought the camp would be miserable and boring, but I really did enjoy it," said Amnah, who received a distinction for her efforts.
As with many of her peers at the camp, aged between 15 and 17, it was a thirst to learn more about her home that drove her interest. "I decided to join because I don't really know about Abu Dhabi, because everything is focused on Dubai. Everything is Dubai," she said. "I don't want to look clueless in front of tourists."
The experience was just as enriching for her older brother, Saif.
In Abu Dhabi for the summer before a return to boarding school in Canada, Saif, an aspiring businessman, learnt how to better promote the city. "I learnt more about how to explain to people what makes Abu Dhabi unique, compared to Dubai," Saif said, adding that it was also interesting to discover how businesses work to attract tourists to the city.
Research by ADTA carried out last year estimated that only 1 per cent of the capital's 18,491 tourism workforce was Emirati. The camp aims to increase that figure, said Nassed Al Reyami, the tourism standards director.
"We are aiming for 2 per cent," he said. The low number signifies the scale of the challenge, he added.
Amnah suggested the problem could be down to Emirati pupils failing to fully grasp the English language.
"Honestly, I don't know. There are many students here that don't have very good English. You need English, a worldwide language, to understand tourism," she said.
Nevertheless, ADTA's efforts have had a lasting effect, especially among those parents who were initially sceptical of their children looking at tourism as a viable career, said Fatima Naser Al Melhi, a development executive and the project manager.
"We have reached the parents," said Ms Al Melhi. "We have changed the mindset of the parents."
For ADTA, and its future graduates, the outlook is bright. "Abu Dhabi is becoming one of the major tourism destinations in the region, and in the world. Inshallah, by 2030, we will be one of the top," she said.