Emiratis at the Careers UAE exhibition last year. Emirati graduates tend to opt for public sector jobs or careers in banking, medical and the nursing sector, but the trend is changing. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Younis Aldawoodi, 29, the duty manager at Hilton, Jumeirah Resort, Dubai, thinks joining the hotel industry was the best thing that happened to him. After completing his higher secondary schooling at 21, he decided to work his way up in the sector.

“Hospitality is an Emirati tradition which has been ingrained in our culture. So I am attuned to this job. Besides that, I have learnt all my formal skills on the job.”

Aldawoodi says he has cooked, washed dishes, handled back office and front desk and done all kinds of training at various hotels in the past eight years.

“My family is from Ras Al Khaimah and, traditionally, all my uncles and cousins have opted for government jobs. The hotel industry has allowed me to meet people of so many cultures and is tremendously creative. No two days are the same,” Aldawoodi says, echoing the sentiments of many young Emiratis today.

Fatima Ahmad Al Shabebi, a guest relations executive at Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, joined the hospitality sector because it is driven by passionate people.

“I was lucky to get a position at Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, which also provided me the opportunity to study at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management and get in-house training afterwards, which really enriched my working experience,” she says.

She wants to represent her country in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of Emirati talent. “When I decided to work in hospitality I had to face my family who didn’t understand my choice. I promised them and myself that I will give all of my passion and effort to be the best,” Fatima says.

The relations she has established during the last six years at Kempinski Hotel are invaluable to her. “I am proud of where I am now and how I represent the UAE,” she says. Fatima advises other Emiratis to join this rewarding industry that has great potential for career growth.

Tourism and hospitality have traditionally not been the first choice of career for most Emirati graduates who would earlier much rather opt for public sector jobs or careers in banking, medical and the nursing sector.

However, in the last five years there has been a slow but sure paradigm shift.

Emiratisation project

The Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) has embarked on a vibrant Emiratisation project in hospitality initiating the Maharat and START programmes in association with DTCM’s Emiratisation Task Force (ETF) and Tanmia, attracting young Emirati graduates to the hospitality sector in keeping with its Tourism 2020 vision.

According to the GCC Hospitality Industry Report 2012 (Alpen Capital), the hospitality market in the UAE is forecast to grow at an average rate of 8.1 per cent in the next four years. Moreover, a new study from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) states that the travel and tourism industry contributed 14 per cent to the UAE economy in 2012, well above the global 9 per cent.

Last year, Dh193.6 billion of the UAE’s GDP came from the industry and that contribution is expected to rise by 3.2 per cent by the end of this year

Commenting on the potential of this sector to offer careers to young Emiratis, Dr Ayoub Kazim, Managing Director of Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Knowledge Village, said: “Demand for skilled workers in the hospitality sector has never been higher and we feel it is our role as a home of the region’s education and training institutes, to facilitate a more coordinated approach between academia and industry.”

The recently announced Mall of the World project, coupled with winning the Expo 2020 bid, means that demand is only going to increase.

Preconceived notions

There are a lot of preconceived notions about the hotel industry that drive Emiratis away, Lucy Hay, CEO of Expressions Arabia, a manpower training organisation, says.

“I have trained thousands of employees in the hospitality sector in the UAE and a very small number of those were Emiratis. I always found it a little disappointing that the famous ‘Arab hospitality’ was not in evidence in any of the hotels in the UAE,” Hay said.

She pointed out that tourists come to the UAE to experience the culture, lifestyle and heritage of the and it definitely should be experienced through the hotels.

“Some of the reasons why there are so few Emiratis in this sector are disapproval from the family, the fact that alcohol is served in the hotels, it is not seen to have a clear career path and, traditionally, you work long hours for relatively low pay,” Hay said.

She feels it is important to have Emiratis in the front line to greet hotel guests. “I started working on a project recently whereby we encourage the hotels to open up roles such as ‘ambassador’. Emiratis are in the front line, meeting and greeting guests ... There are one or two hotels who already do this and I believe it is very successful.”

Cuisine

Emirati cuisine is now in great demand in all restaurant menus and what better way to showcase this than have young Emirati chefs trained in rustling up traditional recipes for consumption by national and international guests?

The International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA) in Dubai offers diplomas in cooking and pastry-making and many young Emiratis are signing up.

Sunjeh Raja, director, ICCA Dubai, is working with the vision of the Dubai Government that is trying to ensure more and more Emiratis are absorbed into the mainstream of the hospitality sector.

Raja confirms that of late many young Emiratis have been enrolling for professional and amateur culinary arts courses at his institute.

“The attitude to acquiring culinary skills for professional or personal reasons has changed now. With the proliferation of the internet, movies and social media platforms, passion for food and experimentation with international cuisines is growing.

“Recently the government of Ras Al Khaimah sent 40 young Emirati women for training to our school as they want these young women to showcase the food traditions of their country,” Raja said.

— With inputs from Nawal Al Ramahi, trainee at Gulf News.