x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A hospitable career choice for young Emiratis

The Life: The tourism industry could be a good source of employment for young Emiratis - if it overcomes its image problem.

Ali Al Saloom, who pens the Ask Ali column for The National, urges fellow Emiratis to get involved in the hospitality sector. Lauren Lancaster / The National
Ali Al Saloom, who pens the Ask Ali column for The National, urges fellow Emiratis to get involved in the hospitality sector. Lauren Lancaster / The National

After returning from studying hospitality management abroad, Ali Al Saloom was ready to start his big job complete with a comfy chair.

But his father had other plans.

While driving Mr Al Saloom to the Beach Rotana in Abu Dhabi, his father pointed at the doorman and told his son, who is now a cultural expert in the UAE, to introduce himself.

That was the start of Mr Al Saloom's one-time career as a concierge, which he remains proud of today.

"I asked my father, 'why did you ask me to go into hospitality?' He said 'because I know your personality. And I don't want to force you but I know this industry chooses its people. You don't choose hospitality'."

Mr Al Saloom, who was speaking at a panel discussion at the World Green Tourism Conference in Abu Dhabi last week, writes the Ask Ali column in The National magazine on Saturdays. "You try to study it [the tourism industry] and get involved in it, but if you don't have a natural smile and you don't like to help people then this is not the industry for you," he added.

Mr Al Saloom has been urging fellow Emiratis to get involved in the hospitality sector, which globally accounts for about 8 per cent of all employment around the world.

But in many parts of the Middle East there is a shortage of both employees and skills.

"There are issues with the image of tourism," said Edith Szivas, the director of research and consultancy at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.

For Muslims, the sale of haram items such as pork and alcohol in hotels is chief among them.

"(Some hotels) have managed to do the following: everything that comes in income from alcohol and selling things that we consider haram goes into a completely different asset, so it is not associated with the other investment of that resort," says Mr Al Saloom. Jebel Ali International Hotels, which runs a number of resorts, including its flagship Jebel Ali Resort and Spa, appointed an Emiratisation director to encourage nationals to join the group.

It has also put an initiative in place to tackle another major concern about the hospitality sector, and hotels in particular: that it does not always offer a clear career path.

"We have created an individual training plan. They start as supervisor and should become a housekeeper manager, some duty managers start as receptionists," says Ghanim Al Marri, the corporate human resources Emiratisation director.

There is still work to do to promote the sector, but progress has already been made as some senior managers at a number of large hotel groups are nationals, says John Mowatt, a training specialist and consultant in Emiratisation at Jebel Ali International Hotel. This includes his own hotel group, which has managed to recruit UAE and other Gulf nationals for a variety of roles, including chefs, duty managers and concierges.

But hospitality is not limited to just hotels. The sector includes a wide spectrum, from tourist guides to small and medium-sized businesses that support the industry.

"Hospitality in this country and all of the Arab countries, especially in the Gulf region, you need to have a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. Why? Because the industry is in demand," says Mr Al Saloom.

"There are not many environmentalists who are active from the UAE who knock on the door of Discovery Channel or Animal Planet and say guess what? I want to be the next Steve Irwin. I want to be the next expert and share this knowledge with the world. This is hospitality."

gduncan@thenational.ae

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