The Future Hospitality Summit will serve up three days of debate, insight, exciting industry news and more when it gets under way in Abu Dhabi next week under the theme ‘Focus on Investment’.
A key spotlight of the region’s leading – and largest – hospitality and tourism summit, being held at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island from September 25 to 27, 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, said organisers.
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.
In the run up to FHS, Al Musharrek; Dimitris Manikis, President EMEA, Wyndham Hotel & Resorts; Sunil John, President - Middle East and North Africa, ASDA'A-BCW; Paul Griep, Director of Industry & Alumni Relations Hotelschool The Hague; and Jeroen Greven, Managing Director, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, 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.
Excerpts from the interviews:
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: 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.
Now, more than ever, the workforce must be bigger, broader thinkers, and must be technically equipped to deal with an increasingly agile workforce. A heightened focus on investing in finding the right individuals for specific roles is paramount. It is also important to nurture top-tier talent as it directly correlates with long-term organisational success.
Dimitris Manikis: I imagine many among us look back on the evolution of our industry and wonder what we did before the digital era enveloped us; the opportunity to streamline operations, optimise resources, and increase efficiency has been valuable far beyond simply growing revenue - providing endless opportunities to elevate guest experiences and freeing up staff for more personalised interactions.
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 is vital for success. It requires passionate individuals who understand the delicate balance between technology and hospitality, and by dedicating more of our time and budgets towards mentorship programmes, cross-training, and tailored development paths, we can enable our teams to navigate change confidently and achieve exceptional outcomes.
The short answer is 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 programmes that ensure young talent learns from industry leaders and builds towards the future.
Sunil John: From our experience of working with the hospitality leaders, we believe that what really sets them apart is their people. As a service industry, it is the personal passion and commitment that the employees bring which build hotel brands. In today’s fast changing, digital-driven landscape, the teams must stay up to date and current with the latest skills and knowledge to remain relevant and productive.
The industry can assist them in this journey by investing in training programs that build on their existing expertise and provide them with new competencies that will both prepare them for the future of work as well as improve their job satisfaction and loyalty.
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: I don't necessarily believe that finding and retaining the right people for the job immediately means a higher investment considering only "costs". 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. I believe both education as well as the industry can make a true competitive difference by assessing which aspects of the hospitality journey can be resolved by technology and which aspects will need more "human" touch. 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: In a rapidly evolving hospitality landscape, continuous learning and upskilling are crucial to keep workforce skills relevant. On demand learning incorporating emerging technologies and industry trends enables employees to adapt and excel. Moreover, fostering a culture of learning and innovation encourages staff to embrace change. To ensure the right workforce is applied in the right role, substantial investment is indeed necessary, both in learning and in effective skills assessment/role matching tools. Retention can be enhanced by providing growth opportunities, work-life balance, and a supportive work environment. By prioritizing both skill development and employee satisfaction, the sector can thrive amidst changing guest needs and technological advancements.
The Middle East, and especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is investing in tourism and hospitality at unprecedented levels, and 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: In the Middle East’s hospitality industry, customer experience is pivotal, therefore attracting and retaining top talent requires a multifaceted approach. Given the region’s diverse workforce, it is important to establish a positive environment that offers an inclusive culture and provides opportunities for growth and development. At Miral, we believe our family friendly approach and the implementation of recognition programmes and clear career growth paths can instil a sense of belonging among employees.
Dimitris Manikis: The Middle East's hospitality surge demands a strategic approach to talent. Attracting and retaining the right professionals hinges on fostering a dynamic workplace culture and offering clear growth opportunities. Our industry's appeal lies in the diverse roles that bring together a melting pot of skills and expertise under one roof, from guest services to management positions. Saudi Arabia can be the “lab” where an array of new techniques, approaches to talent, and recruitment can be tested in action.
Collaborating with local educational institutions and offering internships aligns us with the new generation of emerging talent. At the same time, competitive benefits packages, and internal training programmes, such as the Wyndham University, are designed to inspire loyalty and the desire to grow with the brand.
Sunil John: To attract regional talent, it is important that the hospitality sector underlines the growth opportunities it provides – across diverse functions. Typically, in the region, the hospitality sector has been dominated by expatriate professionals – and there is an urgent need to nurture and build robust career choices for nationals.
Paul Griep: We, as an Industry, have an opportunity to do this "right" this time. For decades our Industry was known for underpaying and overworking. I believe the need for 100,000 skilled professionals is both the biggest challenge they face as well as the greatest opportunity in decades to come. There are various forms of quick fixes that may suit the numbers needed as described above. However, this may not be the most sustainable and/or ethical which will be accepted at a lesser extent by newer generations. I believe that due to the large investments made and the growth foreseen, that there is an opportunity to "recreate" some aspects of our Industry. Traditional hospitality jobs should be analysed and assessed in order to make these more challenging in a new innovative way. Combining tasks and thus broadening job descriptions will not only make our Industry one for which you need proper training and education and thus seen as a real profession and will therefore also encourage and enthuse young professionals to enter our Industry again. The challenge KSA is facing is an opportunity whereby all stakeholders, it being education, industry and government can play a value adding role leading to a situation whereby the Industry is truly sought after and the practices are truly sustainable.
Jeroen Greven: To attract and retain talent in the hospitality industry, a multi-faceted approach is key. Firstly, showcasing the unique opportunities and experiences that the Middle East offers can be a strong draw for candidates. Collaborating with educational institutions to provide specialised hospitality programs can also nurture a local talent pipeline. Recruitment practices have evolved to emphasise cultural fit, diversity, and inclusivity, reflecting changing societal values. Retention strategies now encompass 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. As the industry expands, a strategic mix of appealing incentives and employee-centric policies will remain central to securing and nurturing a skilled workforce.
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: Today, more than ever, it's essential to ensure talent development follows a responsible, ESG-driven path. With much of the world’s focus shifting toward a more sustainable future, it’s a responsibility that falls on all of us to ensure we integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles into training programs. This could involve promoting ethical practices, emphasising waste reduction, and encouraging community involvement. By instilling the values of our Wyndham Green Programme, for example, in our team, we're not just cultivating skilled professionals but also advocates for positive change. This reflects the growing regional focus on sustainability and acts as our own blueprint for working towards a more responsible hospitality industry.
Sunil John: We are dedicated to attracting and nurturing talent who have a specific interest and expertise within the sustainability sector. In fact, we are one of the first communications consultancies to launch our dedicated Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, named OnePoint5, with the goal of addressing the say-do gap in ESG goals and their implementation. As such, we are developing talent who are keen to understand and be part of our ESG offering. We work with several organisations in the region on their ESG frameworks and we believe that for organisations to realise their true purpose, it is important to invest in passionate talent who can make a difference.
Paul Griep: This is an interesting dynamic as I believe that 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 and thus faces a challenge in that respect. An unprecedented large percentage of young graduates is and will continue to select an employer based on sustainability factors. At the same time they are motivated by making an impact and thus offering and empowering them to make this impact at all levels can make a true difference in attaining, but also retaining this talent. This impact should not limit itself to the most common and known aspects only, such as climate. 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. Any program or initiative whereby they can create impact on any of the aspects of ESG will motivate this generation.
Jeroen Greven: Developing talent with an ESG-driven focus involves several strategies. 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. Lastly, weave ESG principles into leadership development, ensuring responsible decision-making at all levels. By integrating ESG into talent development, the industry can contribute to a more sustainable and responsible future. -TradeArabia News Service