ABU DHABI // Tourism chiefs are talking to leading universities about setting up training courses in the capital to encourage more Emiratis to take up tourism as a career. Dayne Lim Kok Chun, director of product development at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the emirate's goal was to become a centre of tourism training by 2012.
He would not say which institutions the authority was trying to attract, but said Emiratis should expect to see more such programmes offered at universities, colleges, and even high schools, within the next year. Authorities believe if Abu Dhabi successfully becomes a tourist destination that the local industry could employ some 6,000 people. The ADTA announced the plan during GIBTM, the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings exhibition that began yesterday at the National Exhibition Centre.
Mr Dayne Lim conceded it could be difficult to boost interest in tourism among Emiratis, who generally favour careers in the civil service or in higher-paying industries such as petroleum and banking. The ADTA hoped, however, that education would help increase the sector's prestige. "We have to increase the image and awareness of it and invite nationals to become aware of the opportunities," he said. "And we need to get tourism into the school curriculum early."
Currently, only 1 per cent of the capital's tourism workforce is Emirati; the ADTA has set a minimum target of 5 per cent by 2012. Nasser al Reyami, the ADTA's director of tourism standards, acknowledged the task would not be easy. Ali Alsaloom, the chairman of Embrace Arabia cultural consultancy and a columnist for The National on Saturday's magazine M, is one of the few Emirati tour guides based in Abu Dhabi.
"We need to implement tourism in our own education system so people can see the importance and great opportunities you can have in this industry," he said. However, he fears success may be slow in coming. "Emiratis and people from the Gulf region still need a lot of time to learn to value work itself. People know already that they can graduate with a master's and be in a high position and make a very good living."
When he began training in the hospitality field, he said, his friends teased him, saying he would be a doorman or a receptionist. "People thought I was a weirdo," he said. Moritz Klein, general manager of the Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi, also suggested that the hotel business was not sufficiently valued. "There are a lot of families not allowing their children to think of a career in a hotel," he said.
According to industry estimates, each new hotel room creates about six jobs. Abu Dhabi plans to increase its present stock of 13,000 rooms to 25,000 by 2012. Currently, most of the capital's tourism students attend the Vocational Education and Training Institute, although a school to teach people language and computer skills required to enter the profession has also been established on Delma Island.