Middle East: Careers in tourism, lucrative or not?


As regional tourism and hospitality projects reach completion, employment levels in the sector show signs of strain form a chronic shortage of trained staff in the Middle East.

Staffing levels have become one of the biggest challenges facing the global industry today. The Middle East alone has demands for more than 1.5 million staff by 2020 and the aviation sector will require 200,000 additional pilots over the coming two decades.

So is it an option to slow growth in tourism and travel? To that, one Dubai leader asked: “Is it an option worldwide to increase unemployment? Is it an option to deliberately increase unemployment and see the kind of growth of population in the region and say we don’t care if this people get a chance to be employed or not?” said Gerald Lawless, executive chairman, Jumeirah Group. He added the world has today a higher rate of employment at 4.5 to 5 percent compared to many years ago, eg in 1970s when unemployment was at 10 percent and inflation at 21 percent in the face of unrest.

“Do we want to go back to that or up on that? We’d like to say we would continue the level of progress in this industry from 10 percent to 12 percent of the world’s labor force. It is achievable through education. Here, Dubai’s ruler and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum donated $ 12 B in the Arab world. We know that this will be beneficial for us to be able to have local labor in our hotels,” he said as 2 percent injected on the 10 percent workforce in Dubai is substantial to the economy.

Such percentage is achievable as tourism and hospitality is a labor-intensive industry and will always be. “I agree we are trying to be more efficient. This is an incredible way of supplying good employment and employment opportunities to developing communities,” said Lawless.

Aren’t countries in the neighborhood, who are moving as fast as Dubai, pinching and pirating staff whom Dubai is able to spot, train, sharpen and retain for a few years?

“It is indeed a labor of love to be able to fly between countries in order to get there, get the right staff, and that we don’t stop the ball from flying out and traveling anywhere. But the real issue is that we need more vocational institutions. We are planning few institutes here in Dubai as well as other source countries where we would find and develop staff, as when we recruit 55,000 from 11,000 employees in 5 years,” he said. To be able to get the kind of skill coming into the industry, Dubai needs to get the educational and vocational education opportunities to the people. In fact, vocational opportunities are badly needed to be addressed in Dubai and on a worldwide basis particularly in the travel industry.

Would Dubai limit expansion if it cannot get the recruitment numbers up to 55,000?
Lawless admitted it could post a problem, limiting their expansion and level of growth as the issue could be exacerbated if educational institutions are not enough in Dubai.

Building human resources on the fast lane in achievable for Sonu Shivdasani, founder, chairman and CEO of Six Senses Resorts & Spas. He said, “Students who graduate from tourism management and look for jobs, in their first positions, need to spend arguably too long in vocational work going into management. But we may struggle to attract the best graduates in the future as those in the jobs that we give them. We need to give our youth good jobs, good opportunities and convince them and their parents that a career in tourism is a good career to pursue.”

Good management institutions should be available. Shivdadani said that if one graduates from a hotel school and needs to come in working as a waiter for a year in order to enter management, people will not be happy. Lawless said: “I don’t expect our graduates to have to do that either. They should be able to move into management roles straight out of their schools because fortunately, we do have enough jobs here in Dubai,” adding that training management does not exclude the need for a vocational learning as well as for different groups.

It is a big challenge for the industry to attract talented university leaders who mostly end up working for Google, Yahoo or some big investment banks. “It is hard to make the tourism industry attractive. Certainly, the tourism industry is a huge employer and will continue to employ more staff and the people of the community,” said the Six Senses Resorts chair.

In a way, due to the environmental issues factoring well in the hearts and minds of some, staff are becoming discriminating about where they want to work as far as sustainability standards are concerned.

Jumeirah’s CEO said, “If you ask students from Emirates Academy, if they care about if the company has a policy on sustainability, they would say – absolutely yes.” He added that within the travel and tourism industry the type of courses and institutions that they launch have to be recognized as the best possible in the world. “Within the Emirates Academy, we go beyond the diplomas. As an employer, the institutions have to be the employers’ choice. We have to be the industry of choice if we were to commit to the trade,” he said adding there is a shortage of skills and of people in the industry.

And if there’s a shortage, opportunities will increase dramatically for the young people as well as for graduates coming out of hotel management schools and hotel universities. Lawless said, “We also have people who work in sales and marketing who have not been employed in hotels before. We accept them as they give us a different perspective on how we run our business. The expansion we get produces more opportunity. More opportunity produces better pay, better salaries, better conditions for people committed to the industry.”

And if the cycle makes good employers, chances are people will stay and produce good churn. If this turn into good industry, there will always be better churn. Lots of employers come to the Emirates Academy to recruit too for banks and other customer-focus industry.