x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emiratis working to promote their country

A programme that teaches Emiratis how to promote their country has seen a surge in applications since it was opened to the public last year.

Ali Al Falahi, left, a Emirati ambassador, takes part in a training tour of Abu Dhabi. Sammy Dallal / The National
Ali Al Falahi, left, a Emirati ambassador, takes part in a training tour of Abu Dhabi. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // A programme that teaches Emiratis how to promote their country has seen a surge in applications since it was opened to the public last year.

Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) launched its "ambassador" project five years ago.

It teaches Emiratis to act as tour guides at sites such as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and to help visiting dignitaries such as presidents and monarchs. The programme covers areas such as etiquette, tourist attractions and history.

Initially open only to Zayed University students, it was expanded first to government employees and now to the general public. The number of applicants for the 110 places available rose from 534 last year to 622 this year.

"It shows the community wants to become involved," said Mohamed Al Marzouqi, who has run the scheme since it started. He said each batch of applicants had been bigger and better than the last.

"The quality increased when we opened the programme to the public and private sectors last year," he added.

Ambassadors must have good English and be between 18 and 35 years old but there are no strict academic criteria. Candidates have to go through interviews, a written test and give group presentations.

Nearly all of the trainers are Emirati, including guest speakers such as the author Ali Al Saloom, a columnist for The National.

The success of the programme is such that the tourism authorities in other emirates will now send employees to take part, and Abu Dhabi's ambassadors are being sought by other emirates.

"Our ambassadors are specialised in Abu Dhabi but they can represent other emirates at other events," said Mr Al Marzouqi. "This has a wider impact than Abu Dhabi alone."

Duaa Mukhayer, 24, is taking the three-month course while working in communications at the TCA.

She believes having people from other emirates was helpful. "It will help enhance the programme," she said. "This way, anyone can be involved in representing any emirate and we all can learn more about each other's emirates, too."

As the programme grows, the curriculum has evolved to include modules about handling the media and protocol training from the Crown Prince's Court, so that the ambassadors can deal with VIPs.

Ms Mukhayer said it had helped her to learn about her country.

"We've been to places like museums already but through this we go to places we wouldn't think to go, like to Lulu Island to learn about pearl fishing," she said.

"That's a new experience to explore and learn. We learnt about the skills and how the methods changed over the centuries."

The authority will offer two new programmes this year, one for border control staff and another for prominent figures such as sportsmen, poets and artists.

Fatima Al Melhi, 27, joined the TCA's communications team and the ambassador programme after graduating in 2008.

"Emiratis are the best to represent their country," she said. "Each Emirati has the duty to their own emirate to represent it to visitors."

mswan@thenational.ae