x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Wanted: local tourism knowledge

Young Emiratis have traditionally shunned working in the tourism industry.

Young Emiratis have traditionally shunned working in the tourism industry. But an Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority programme to get them involved is meeting with remarkable success, and the sector is now a career option for graduating nationals. Rebecca Bundhun reports The Abu Dhabi Government is working hard to encourage more Emiratis to take up careers in the tourism industry, a sector that has traditionally been shunned by locals.

Its strategy is to focus on Emirati youth to cut off any negative perceptions around such jobs. The capital aims to expand its tourism sector considerably over the next few years, with additions such as the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. So the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) says it is vital that more Emiratis join the industry to be able to explain local culture to visitors more effectively. Less than 1 per cent of the capital's tourism workforce is Emirati, but the ADTA is aiming to increase that to 5 per cent by 2012.

"The door is open but nationals don't find it palatable," says Atef al Bastaki, the senior Emiratisation executive at the ADTA. Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the ADTA, says: "We are solid in our belief that visitor engagement with Emiratis will be critical to the sustainability of our destination brand." To this end, the ADTA this year launched a youth programme to promote careers in the industry to the next generation. The interest generated was phenomenal, the ADTA says, with more than 200 young Emiratis between the ages of 15 and 20 competing for one of the 70 available places on the programme.

The month-long programme, which took place throughout July, was designed to develop the students' understanding of the hospitality and tourism industry, gain hands-on experience in the sector and learn about Abu Dhabi as a destination, as well as developing leadership and teamwork skills, the ADTA said. One of the participants, Jumana al Mahmoud, 17, says she had never considered entering the tourism industry before, but the programme has inspired her to change her career path.

Ms al Mahmoud had wanted to study aeronautical engineering but now she says she will enrol in a media degree programme with a tourism component at Zayed University, with the aim of becoming a tour guide. "I learned so many things that I didn't know and now I'm thinking about working in tourism," she says. "There are not many Emirati tour guides." Lateefa al Nowais, 18, says that she also wants to be a tour guide after taking part in the programme. "It was amazing," Ms al Nowais says. "I want to do it again next year."

Speaking about the motivation behind becoming a tour guide, she says: "It's a very nice thing. You go to so many places and you introduce the people to your culture and the city you are living in." Ms al Nowais says that were many aspects and attractions in Abu Dhabi that she did not know about before she took part in the programme. She says engineering was a popular career choice among many of her peers. "I wanted to be a pilot," she says.

The programme included front and back office experience at the Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel, familiarisation trips to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Emirates Palace, Sir Bani Yas Island, and the Falcon Hospital. Ali al Hammadi, 20, says he particularly enjoyed the trip to Sir Bani Yas Island. "We learned all about the animals." Mr al Hammadi also gained experience of working in a hotel, learning how to check-in guests and tried his hand at working in the kitchen.

Studying for a business diploma at Abu Dhabi Men's College, he says that he now wants to work in marketing for the ADTA. He would also consider becoming a tour guide. "It's a good job." Nasser al Reyami, the director of tourism standards at the ADTA, said: "Our research had shown that nationals had limited understanding of the many varied career options available within the industry and we believe this programme has begun addressing their misconceptions.

"We hope next year to expand the intake to around 100 students and develop the curriculum ? following feedback from the class of 2009." rbundhun@thenational.ae