x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Calling the Emirates home is no longer enough to be a tour guide

If we are serious about Emiratisation in tourism and hospitality, it's about time we faced reality: nice words and showpieces aren't enough.

The days when speaking English well and being Emirati would qualify for a job in tourism have gone for good - and quite right, too.

As so many people in the world speak English, you'd think being able to do so should be sufficient to open doors in the tourism industry.

Unfortunately, it's not true. The most widely spoken language on our planet, according to Ethnologue, is Mandarin, with 1.213 billion native speakers. Second comes Spanish with 329 million, and then English with 328 million.

The World Tourism Barometer, published by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is predicting a growth of outbound tourism from the new markets, with 38 per cent from China, 32 per cent from Brazil  and 21 per cent from Russia. Obviously, tourism must cater to many more languages than just English.

In the old days it took travellers weeks or months on horseback or camelback to ride from one end of the country to the other. Back then, travellers were envied for their ability to master foreign languages and experience other cultures.

These type of travellers are rare nowadays. The modern- day travellers - tourists - can get to almost any place within a couple of hours.

The world has become a small village. Gone are the days when one could, and would, learn the language of the desired destination on the way. Twenty-first century travellers come in much, much larger numbers, fly to wherever it's "hot" or "cool" to be, with credit cards in hand and the intention to have a good time.

At the travel destination, someone has to provide the good time and the guest will pay for it. Of course, what constitutes a good time will differ from one person to another, but for tourism and hospitality to succeed, multi-language skills are a must.

I have been told tourism operators are reluctant to hire Emiratis. A friend, one of the biggest tourism players in the whole region, put it simply: "Get me an Emirati who speaks three languages fluently, has a degree and will work for the same package and under the same conditions as everyone else, and we'll hire him or her today."

Being an Emirati is something to be proud of, but it is not a qualification. The job market is based on skills and knowledge, not on passports, wasta or Daddy's reputation. If we are serious about Emiratisation in tourism and hospitality, it's about time we faced reality: nice words and showpieces aren't enough; we need skilled and trained professionals, not quota-Emiratis.