The guest registration at a Marriott hotel in midtown Manhattan, New York. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Marriott International launched a recruitment drive for future Emirati general managers and senior executives, introducing 10 Emiratis who will be fast-tracked into management positions.

In an effort to meet private sector quotas for nationals across the Gulf, Marriott — the largest hotel operator in the world — launched its Tahseen programme last year in Saudi Arabia, encouraging graduates to apply for the 12-month course. Dareen Al Zaabi, a Saudi national who joined the programme last year and has since graduated, said the prospect of working in a government job didn’t exactly excite her.

“Our generation are looking for something new — a government job is just a desk job … from 8am until 3pm, every day,” Al Zaabi said. “In the hospitality sector, there’s always something new.”

Historically, Gulf nationals have entered the lucrative public sector straight from university. As governments seek to wean their economies off a dependency on oil revenues and public sector is scaled down, there is a vigorous push to encourage locals to enter the private sector.

Al Zaabi, who studied medicine at university, said she was motivated to do a job she cared about ... rather than just collecting a paycheck. “The salary doesn’t matter as long as I’m enjoying what I do. People of our generation don’t want to work like our parents, sitting on a desk [in a government job] and then leaving.

“You will be bored by the end of the week if you just do a routine.”

Marriott developed the crash course in collaboration with Cornell University. The programme is currently running in the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. A Marriott executive said Oman was being eyed as a potential candidate for the programme to expand to next.

On Thursday, the company announced its intake of UAE students for 2019 — eight women and two men. “We need to change the game and change the perception, and show nationals that hospitality is a legitimate industry,” said Alex Kyriakidis, regional head of Marriott International, which owns hotel brands such as the Westin, the St Regis, and the Ritz-Carlton.

If one went back to a time when oil prices where close to $130 (Dh477) a barrel, as opposed to $65 today, Kyriakidis said, most Emiratis would have said they were planning to work in “the government, or the energy sector.”

“Hospitality would be somewhere way, way down at the bottom. We had to do something different to capture the imagination of graduates.”

With the government imposing “significant quotas” on private companies to hire locals, Marriott saw a need to develop its Tahseen course. “We wanted to create something that was different to a localisation programme,” said David Leman, Marriott’s chief human resources officer for the Middle East and Africa.

“It wasn’t just about getting numbers in to our hotels and meeting significant quotas. It’s about creating future general managers and beyond. And having a robust pipeline for that.”

The programme has 200 recruits. Within three to four years, this would have a run rate of around 400 to 500 recruits, “to feed us with the leadership we need,” Leman added.

With 30 hotels under development in Saudi Arabia alone, the company is guaranteed to need local expertise. “So I’m sorry to the general managers who are sitting in this room today,” Leman said, gesturing around to the audience at the launch event in Dubai, “but here are your replacements.”

Recruits

Shaimaa Al Hanaee is a confident 23-year-old Emirati who graduated from Zayed University last year. On Thursday, Al Hanaee — along with nine other Emiratis — was announced as one of this year’s Tahseen recruits on Thursday, joining Marriott International’s management fast-track programme for Middle East nationals.

The 12-month course will see the 10 recruits given managerial roles at some of Marriott’s hotels at the end of the programme. According to Al Hanaee, she had done an internship at a government office during her time at university, but found the experience a bit boring.

Al Hanaee said she wanted a job that excited her, so she took another internship, this time at a company in the private sector.

When she saw the chance to join Marriott’s leadership programme, Al Hanaee said that her love for learning about other cultures and interacting with people from different backgrounds pulled her in. “I saw this as the golden opportunity for me and will open doors to go where I want to go.

“Only stupid people say you don’t need to learn more. I’m greedy to continue learning.”