AL GHARBIA – As new tourism ventures have sprung up across Al Gharbia in recent years – from the Qasr Al Sarab resort to the camel festival – they have sometimes struggled to find good, qualified Emiratis to run them.
Now a new initiative is aiming to persuade Emiratis to become ambassadors and the driving force behind the industry.
Last week, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) set up stall at careers fairs at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Madinat Zayed and Ruwais, to try to entice young Emiratis into the sector.
To succeed, according to Mohamed Al Marzouqi, the ADTA’s head of Emiratisation, the campaign will have to reverse a long-standing “cultural resistance” to working in tourism.
“People didn’t see the career opportunities,” he said. “Our duty at ADTA is to bridge the community with the hotel and hospitality industry so that they see the opportunities open to them.”
ADTA has hosted numerous careers talks with parents, and taken young Emiratis on trips to let them see first hand that there are jobs available that do not compromise people’s cultural beliefs – in human resources, for example, where they can work behind the scenes rather than dealing with customers.
“We’ve had some nationals apply to work with us since doing these career fairs, so the perception is changing, slowly,” he added.
It has been difficult, too, to lure young Emiratis into the private sector, according to Sultan Al Blooshi, also on the ADTA Emiratisation team. “They are resistant,” he said. “They still want to work for the government companies, so this is a big challenge for us.”
ADTA has been in talks with the HCT for them to offer a diploma in tourism, something as yet unavailable in the area. This would allow students to study and gain on the job experience at hotels such as Qasr Al Sarab and Jebel Dhanna.
“It’s more girls that are interested,” said Mr Al Marzouqi, “as the boys have more opportunities and can travel. Girls prefer to stay close to home.”
Abu Dhabi has grand ambitions for tourism in Al Gharbia, planning to make more of Liwa’s date and camel festivals, and of Sir Bani Yas and Delma islands.
Nial Farrell, the associate director of the HCT colleges in Al Gharbia, said: “Tourism is a growing thing for Al Gharbia, but there is some reluctance on the part of our female students. As far as the community is concerned, it’s not an area that female Emiratis should be working in.”
Turki Al Rashdi, a 21-year-old Emirati from Sila, signed up last week to ADTA’s training programme, believing tourism has great potential.
“I’m very passionate about my country,” he said. “It’s important for tourists to meet Emiratis because it reflects the image of the country.”
So far, the best progress has been made by Desert Islands Resort and Spa on Sir Bani Yas Island, which opened in 2008 and has four Emirati women.
Several also play key protocol roles at Qasr Al Sarab, acting as a bridge between the hotel and local authorities as well as advising on the cultural suitability of the hotel’s new projects.
Yasmeen Al Hammadi, 24, joined Desert Islands Resort and Spa six months ago as a guide, introducing guests to local culture and activities.
The UAE University graduate makes the three-hour journey from her home in Abu Dhabi and stays on Sir Bani Yas Island for about four or five days a week along with her Emirati colleagues.
This, she admits, would deter most families. Her own is not exactly happy. “They don’t like me being so far away, they worry,” she said.
Her group have been trained at the Delma Island education centre, studying for a City and Guilds certificate in travel and tourism.
“The people who come here want to meet people from the UAE and hear them talking about their country,” she said. “They don’t want foreigners to talk about a different country.”