We are slowly coming down from the high of the success of the 2017 edition of the Hotelier Middle East Awards, which took place at the end of October. As always, it was clear that people really are everything this industry needs to succeed. This was apparent, not just through the awards and its coverage, but also through our interviews and features in this month’s issue. Whether companies need its people to embrace new technologies in order to achieve efficiency (see pgs 36-37) or operators need the best teams for successful pre-openings (see pgs 38-43), we cannot deny that people are the building blocks to this industry.

Why then, are we struggling to attract top talent to this sector? Bearing in mind the importance of good people, surely it’s in our best interest to ensure the hospitality sector is perceived as one of the most attractive industries to be a part of? Surprisingly this isn’t necessarily the case. Multiple experts have, in the course of putting together this issue, commented about the struggles to recruit high quality candidates. In fact, during the HR and training focused roundtable (see pgs 82-86), Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne head of admissions and recruitment Mark Reimer revealed that when the institute hosts careers fairs, hoteliers have to fight off other industries to bag the best talent. He commented: “You’re not just competing with hospitality companies for the talent, so that means that students have multiple offers, so there’s got to be something attractive that will engage them.”

Talent and recruitment also was raised during the roundtable hosted after this year’s AHIC Advisory Panel. Zoltan Kali, chief asset management officer, Omran, commented that hotels’ core business is people, and said: “Hotels will always be run by people, at least in our lifetime.” Meanwhile, Dur Hospitality CEO Dr Badr AlBadr noted that it was important to invest more in local talent to cope with the expansion of supply in hotels. Maad International Co chief hospitality officer Abdedllah Essonni said nitaqat (a Saudisation initiative, to increase the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector) was essential, but pointed out that hoteliers needed to do a better job of selling the industry to the Kingdom’s citizens. He said: “I think we should invest more in our in-house training department and really focus on installing the hospitality philosophy and culture with the Saudis.”

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Kali said he believes this is true region-wide, and revealed that 75% of graduates from the Oman Tourism College go on to work in banks, or the oil & gas sector. “There’s a cultural reluctance in accepting hotel-related jobs which is slowly softening up but it’s still there,” he said.

Perhaps Marriott’s method of letting an influencer show off what it’s like to work in hotels is one others can take inspiration from (see pgs 82-86); after all, receiving 3,000 applications to join the operator’s Tahseen programme after watching a 17-minute video from a local influencer is quite a feat! 

Once potential top quality candidates see what it truly means to work in this industry, to be a hotelier, it’s quite plausible to believe they will want to join this sector. But remember, once you secure your best talent, you have to do all you can to keep them there, through training, career plans, engagement, and empowerment. But that’s another letter in itself.

On that note, I’d like to wish you all the best for a prosperous 2018; I look forward to seeing what the new year brings for this dynamic industry.