Gulf Countries Seek to Teach Students ‘Hospitality’ in Classes

Skift Take

Countries like Saudi and Oman are considering the move as they dash to fill new hotels with worthy talent.

Hospitality as a school subject is likely to start being added in countries across the Gulf as they rush to fill their newly opened hotels. Tourism is a key component of the region’s economy, with areas like Dubai leading the way and Saudi Arabia looking to make tourism its second-largest economic contributor behind oil.

At the Hotel Show in Dubai this week, teaching hospitality to schoolchildren was discussed.

“There are a lot of projects happening when it comes to talent. In 12 to 18 months, one of the key projects is bringing hospitality into the curriculum in lower grades, that’s happening in Saudi as we speak, in Oman I know it’s happening… It will become part of your life,” said Amit Nayak on stage, Vice President of Hotel Asset Manager’s Association Middle East and Africa.

Nayak sits on the newly-formed Emirates Tourism Council — a government entity of industry representatives who meet to improve tourism in the UAE.

He added: “The more you get kids into the business, hospitality as a vertical for employment will become more of a norm… Our business needs to be sexier. Talent needs to think it’s a cool industry to be part of.”

Philip Jones Senior Vice President Operations, Middle East & Africa at Accor said on stage: “Having hospitality on the curriculum would be a great thing. It’s a broad education, from finance to distribution, to sales and marketing.”

Schools and Academies

According to the WTTC, The Middle Eastern travel sector grew by more than 25% in 2023 to reach almost $460 billion. Jobs reached nearly 7.75 million, with around 800,000 of those centered in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia has already announced various plans for dedicated tourism schools, akin to the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, but nothing yet for younger age school students.

In October 2023, Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb announced the opening of the Riyadh School of Tourism and Hospitality, aimed at providing training in the tourism and travel sector.

The school is set to have a campus in Qiddiya, covering an area of five million square meters. The project will cost approximately $1 billion and the planned opening is 2027.

In the UAE, there is the government-backed Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management as well as the Dubai College of Tourism.

Oman too has dedicated tourism colleges and academies.

The Labor Markets

For Saudi Arabia, the kingdom is dashing to find more hospitality and tourism talent. Between now and the end of the decade, 320,000 new hotel rooms are expected to open in Saudi Arabia, and by 2030, the country wants 70 million international tourists, up from the current 27 million.

While developers can find the money to build hotels, finding high-quality talent to work in those hotels can be more challenging. Saudi Arabia also imposes ‘localization’ rules, meaning a proportion of staff have to be Saudi locals rather than overseas labor.

Historically, Gulf countries have hired staff from markets like India, Bangladesh and Nepal, where salary expectations will be much, much lower. In the UAE, almost four million Indians reside, close to 40% of the total population.

In Saudi, it is estimated 10% to 13% of the nation’s total population are Indian.

Jones told Skift: “In terms of where Accor labor [in the region] comes from, yes, it’s still those traditional markets.”

Meanwhile, local UAE brand Rove Hotels says it is shifting its hiring to respond to more Russians in the country. COO Paul Bridger said: “As a brand, we have a healthy balance of nationalities but we’re seeing a large proportion of Russian-speaking guests, so we’re hiring for that.”

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