x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Ali Column: Real hospitality is within the reach of Emiratis

Ali Al Saloom on why Emiratis should embrace travel and tourism as career choices.

I still remember the moment my beloved father suggested I choose hospitality to major in at university. And I still recall replying that I was not keen to run around in a white gown giving people injections. Well, hospitality and hospitals - now I know the difference. I also remember the countless offers of well-minded Emiratis to help me out of what they considered for me an inappropriate job, when I later stood in my kandura behind the reception desk at the Beach Rotana, Abu Dhabi.

It would be rather funny, were it not really sad, that we say we really want to develop tourism and hospitality, but our largest effort to make a hotel ethnically Emirati is an arrow sign pointing towards Mecca in the rooms.

I also fail to understand the Emirati approach in a visitor programme that consists of a belly dance show, shishas and some drinks in a desert camp. Nevertheless, this is exactly what is offered to tourists as "the ultimate authentic experience". There is nothing wrong with this, except that it has nothing to do with an Emirati experience.

Sophisticated travellers - the ones we would like to attract to our country - are demanding. A clean room and sufficient, good food are a given nowadays. Immaculate service, authenticity and uniqueness are the winning points for future customers.

And yes, we can build the most luxurious and ornately designed hotels, we can serve the best food and have the cosiest guest rooms, but all this does not matter unless it is not brought to life by people who can create the experience. Unfortunately, hospitality and tourism are services, not products that can be manufactured and sold on demand.

The product is experience and it needs to be re-created and tailored for each and every individual guest. And no matter how hard one tries - an "authentic Emirati experience" can only be provided by an Emirati.

There is no way around this. Without Emiratis taking up careers in tourism and hospitality, the industry here will suffer in the long term.

What I'm constantly hearing are weak arguments as to why it is not possible for Emiratis to take up careers in tourism and hospitality: "Alcohol is a must and this will stop Emiratis from getting involved." Wrong! In Sharjah, tourism and hotels are doing well without alcohol."Emiratis are not reliable staff." Wrong! Who, if not banks, need completely reliable staff? Banks are, besides the government, the largest employers of Emiratis.

Arabic hospitality is legendary. Therefore, a career in this industry should be one of the most natural things for a young Emirati to consider when starting out in life.