Attracting and retaining talent, and giving nationals a greater role in Hospitality

Future Hospitality Summit, Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, 25-27 September
Attracting and retaining talent, and giving nationals a greater role in Hospitality
Hospitality summit speakers

The Future Hospitality Summit is set to serve up three days of debate, insight, exciting industry news and more when it gets underway in Abu Dhabi next week on September 25th under the theme of ‘Focus on Investment.’

A key focus of the region’s leading and largest hospitality and tourism summit is on the importance of investing in people, identifying ways to close the talent gap, recruiting and retaining the right workforce and building ESG into the recruitment process.

Mariam Al Musharrekh, Executive Director of Human Resources at Miral, Host Sponsor of FHS, says that recruitment, retention and development remain ever-important to cater to increasing demand for sustainable, digitalised, and hyper-personalised guest experiences within the leisure, entertainment, tourism industry.

“An organization’s workforce must be empowered to contribute meaningfully to sustainable practices by cultivating a culture of ethical governance, community engagement, and continuous learning,” she said.

In the run-up to FHS, Mariam Al Musharrekh and other hospitality sector leaders share their thoughts on key factors relating to workforce skills, finding and keeping talent, attracting UAE and KSA nationals and the importance of building ESG into the recruitment process.

Read: Future Hospitality Summit tackles key sustainability issues facing hospitality sector

With guests’ needs ever-changing and new technology playing an increasing role in the hospitality sector, how can we ensure that workforce skills remain relevant?  Is more investment needed in finding and retaining the right people for the job?

Mariam Al Musharrekh said: “The hospitality sector has gone through a revolution over the past few years through the integration of digital ecosystems within its operations. Following this revolution, recruitment, retention and development remain a focal point for success within the industry, as hospitality professionals are key to driving hyper-personalized experiences.

The workforce must be bigger, broader thinkers, and must be technically equipped to deal with an increasingly agile workforce.”

Dimitris Manikis, President EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said: “Our industry thrives on human connection. While technology certainly enhances experiences, it’s the human touch that truly matters and what our guests remember. Investing in finding and nurturing the right talent requires passionate individuals who understand the delicate balance between technology and hospitality.

Yes, investment is needed, but it’s not just about investing more money. It’s also about investing in the next generation and starting at the grassroots. This means working with schools and universities to facilitate internship programs that ensure young talent learns from industry leaders and builds towards the future.”

Sunil John, President – Middle East and North Africa, ASDA’A-BCW, said: “It is the personal passion and commitment that the employees bring which build hotel brands. In today’s fast-changing, digital-driven landscape, teams must stay current with the latest skills and knowledge to remain relevant and productive. There are certain timeless qualities that anyone looking to start their career in the hospitality industry should have – first and foremost, a sense of customer service; attention to detail; interpersonal skills; and flexibility.”

Paul Griep, Director of Industry & Alumni Relations Hotelschool The Hague, said: “Investment is needed, but I believe this is more from a creative and innovative nature.  Young graduates entering the industry will already be way more tech-savvy than we sometimes realize. Education should entice and develop these innovations and industry should encourage, use, and take positive advantage of these skills when applying and/or developing tech-related aspects of service. Due to the increase in tech, there may and should be more focus on “touch” in other high-impact areas of the guest journey.”

Jeroen Greven, Managing Director, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, said: “On-demand learning incorporating emerging technologies and industry trends enables employees to adapt and excel. Retention can be enhanced by providing growth opportunities, work-life balance, and a supportive work environment.”

The Middle East, and especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is investing in tourism and hospitality at unprecedented levels. It’s believed that close to 100,000 skilled hospitality professionals are needed by 2026.

What are the best ways to attract and retain talent in the hospitality industry?  Have recruitment and retention practices changed over the last few years and, if so, how?

Mariam Al Musharrekh said: “It is important to establish a positive environment that offers an inclusive culture and provides opportunities for growth and development. Over the last few years, we have seen notable transformations in recruitment and retention practices. With the use of data-driven approaches, recruitment has become more targeted and personalized, aiding to the identification of more suitable candidates.”

Dimitris Manikis said: “Saudi Arabia can be the ‘lab’ where an array of new techniques, approaches to talent, and recruitment can be tested in action. We have indeed witnessed an evolution of recruitment and retention practices in line with the changing needs and expectations of candidates and employees, with a much more conscious focus on inclusivity, work-life balance, and career progression.”

Sunil John said: “The hospitality sector is one of the Top 10 preferred sectors by young Arabs to pursue their careers. Typically, in the region, the hospitality sector has been dominated by expatriate professionals. There is an urgent need to nurture and build robust career choices for nationals.

Our 2023 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey revealed that nearly half of Arab youth aspire to start their own businesses in the next 5 years, showing that many future hospitality leaders may arrive in the sector as company founders and future hospitality leaders.”

Paul Griep said: “For decades our Industry was known for underpaying and overworking. I believe the need for 100,000 skilled professionals is both the biggest challenge the industry faces as well as the greatest opportunity for decades to come. There is an opportunity to ‘recreate’ some aspects of our Industry. Combining tasks and thus broadening job descriptions will encourage and enthuse young professionals to enter our Industry again.”

Jeroen Greven said: “To attract and retain talent in the hospitality industry, a multi-faceted approach is key. Firstly, showcase the unique opportunities and experiences that the Middle East offers. Collaborate with educational institutions to provide specialized hospitality programs. Recruitment practices have evolved to emphasize cultural fit, diversity, and inclusivity, reflecting changing societal values. Retain talent via tailored career paths, mentorship programs, and a focus on work-life balance. Employee well-being and development have gained prominence, fostering loyalty and reducing turnover.”

Given government Emiratisation and Saudisation directives, how are you identifying, acquiring and retaining Arab youth talent?

Mariam Al Musharrekh said: “Our career development program, “Maharaty”, ensures more Emiratis thrive to become future leaders. Participants are empowered to hone and enhance their potential, experience, and leadership skills. Our three-month Ambassador training program provides hands-on training at our world-class theme parks, such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros.”

Dimitris Manikis said: “Our approach to nurturing Arab youth talent involves forging partnerships with educational institutions and continuing to offer internships and mentorship programs. Social media and public channels now play a valuable role across the sector and beyond in showcasing brand identity, company culture, and operational excellence to potential candidates.”

Sunil John said: “ASDA’A BCW operates within a dynamic and diverse cultural eco-system for employees, and we have 27 different nationalities amongst our 160 employees across our regional offices. We offer opportunities for National youth with no previous communications experience to join our training and mentorship program. We additionally have an outreach program aimed at attracting talent from the top universities to enter the business at a junior level.”

Paul Griep said: “Retaining talent will undoubtedly be correlated with the career development opportunities the industry will offer. There is an opportunity to start with a ‘blank sheet of paper’. One can redefine some of the processes and create and develop jobs and career paths that are quite different from traditional ones.”

Jeroen Greven said: “Identifying Arab youth talent involves partnering with local educational institutions to establish targeted recruitment pipelines. Creating internship programs, apprenticeships, and job shadowing opportunities can provide hands-on experience and attract young talent. Retaining Arab youth talent necessitates a supportive work environment that values their aspirations and offers opportunities for career advancement.”

With an ever-increasing focus on sustainability and the environment, how can we ensure that we are developing talent in a responsible, ESG-driven way?

Dimitris Manikis said: “It’s essential to ensure talent development follows a responsible, ESG-driven path. It’s a responsibility that falls on all of us to ensure we integrate ESG principles into training programs. This could involve promoting ethical practices, emphasizing waste reduction, and encouraging community involvement.”

Sunil John said: “We work with several organizations in the region on their ESG frameworks and we believe that for organizations to realize their true purpose, it is important to invest in passionate talent who can make a difference.”

Paul Griep said: “The current talent entering the market is ahead of the Industry when it comes to the passion, drive, commitment and responsibility related to sustainability.  This generation makes choices related to sustainability that our Industry doesn’t always realize yet.  This talent pool is also especially interested in companies ‘doing good’ on other levels such as equality, fighting poverty, and offering opportunities to the underprivileged.”

Jeroen Greven said: “Start by incorporating sustainability modules into training programs to raise awareness. Foster a culture of responsible practices through continuous education on environmental and social issues. Implement mentorship programs where seasoned professionals guide talent in ESG considerations. Collaborate with sustainability experts to offer workshops that instill practical skills. Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate a commitment to ESG values.”

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