Quotas on Emirati staff in UAE hotels might be coming soon, and hoteliers should lead the charge before they are given exact regulations to follow. Still, the industry faces hurdles in attracting employees.
RAS AL KHAIMAH, United Arab Emirates—Hiring more Emirati hotel employees is one of the main priorities of the United Arab Emirates’ tourism development agencies, according to sources.
Speaking at a panel titled “Emiratisation” at last month’s Arabian Hotel Investment Conference, Ahmed Ramdan, founder and group CEO of Dubai-based Ròya International, said only 11% of the population of the UAE is Emirati.
According to government sources, 80% of the approximately 11 million in the country are expatriates.
“The national population is low compared with other nations, yet we see that guests want to see Emiratis, to have that added authenticity,” said Olivier Harnisch, CEO of Emaar Hospitality Group.
The push to have more Emiratis work in the country’s hospitality industry started with government organizations four years ago, panelists said, but as yet no quotas have been discussed, Ramdan said.
“But for sure it is coming, and the hotel industry needs to take a lead before those quotas as set, before we are told,” he said. “We’ve started seeing great things done this year, thanks to initiatives from companies such as Emaar, but we need to push it further.”
Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras al Khaimah Tourism Development Agency, runs the principal body looking to change this lopsided equation.
There are two preconceptions, he explained. The first is that the hotel industry is not seen by many to be a serious, attractive business, and the second is it is believed by jobseekers that all hotel roles are in cooking, serving or reception.
“You have to show (Emiratis) the opportunities for themselves. You have to reveal the passion,” Mattar said.
Mattar said he is seeing positive changes.
“We have seen an uptick in Emiratis working in hotel marketing, as with the evolution of digital, they no longer just see (marketing) as a sexy word,” Mattar said. “As we show the value of tourism to the overall economy, that, too, gets interest.”
“The percentage of Emiratis at Emaar will double by the end of the year,” Harnisch said. “We want Emiratis to be travel ambassadors for the UAE.”
Mattar said hotels could do more to attract Emiratis by making sure hotels are regularly spruced up, updated and marketed.
The hiring of women presents an additional problem in the UAE, as well as in the larger region, Mattar said.
“We’ve hired ladies where the father has had to come in to see the office,” Mattar said.
The general distaste for long, unsociable hours also has raised its head.
“The banking sector, for example, has 35-hour weeks,” Mattar said. “I’m the only Emirati in my type of role. The hotel industry is one in which your job becomes your social life.”