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In the work place, what we know today may not always be applicable tomorrow. And, as in any industry it remains vital for one to stay on top of their game to remain in the job. With the Middle East’s expanding hospitality sector welcoming evermore fresh-out-of-university graduates into employment, seasoned hoteliers must now keep up – Sophie McCarrick finds out exactly how they’re doing so.

Amongst the fastest growing in the world, the Middle Eastern hospitality industry is expected to grow at an annual rate of 9.5% to US$35.9b by 2018, compared to US$22.8b in 2013. Parallel to this surge, is an increasing demand for not only talented individuals, but professionals adequately equipped to deal with the ever-changing service model of today.

By 2025, the tourism and hospitality industry is forecasted to swell 10% to add nearly 72m additional hospitality jobs worldwide, the World Travel and Tourism Council predicts. And with events such as Dubai Expo 2020 and Qatar 2022 World Cup on the horizon, the region’s need for suitable employees is soon to be further accelerated, simultaneously putting pressure on existing hoteliers to update their skills and be on-track to compete with incoming candidates.

Over the past decade hotel schools across the globe have seen tremendous amounts of hoteliers in the Middle East returning to school, even with 15+ years’ experience. Clementine Rouan, head of industry relations global, Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, says: “Demand from the region is definitely on the rise, which is creating pressure on hotels to not just recruit fresh talent but also to place the correct talent in leadership positions to successfully manage and direct this growth.”

Catering to this, hospitality higher education has shifted from offering general undergraduate programmes in hospitality management, to delivering specialised education. In the hospitality industry where 21% of companies report skills gaps – compared to an overall business average of 13% – there is a clear need for continued education. “We have noticed increased interest in our programmes amongst professionals looking to update their skill set. Our online programmes especially are very popular with professionals in the region,” comments Anouk Tenten, senior manager global admissions and market development, Glion Institute of Higher Education.

At the Swiss-based Glion Institute, 11% of students enrolled on the Online MBA are based in the Middle East. In addition to 10% of its overall students coming from the Middle East. According to Tenten, hospitality professionals are looking for programmes that allow them to expand on their skills without interrupting their careers. “We find that most hospitality professionals enrolling do so towards the middle of their careers,” she explains. “Professionals with 10 to 15 years of experience that are progressing through management level that need to update their skills.”

Careers in hospitality are not always linear, however, and many non-degree professionals rise through the ranks by experience and hard work. More often, many reach a point in middle management where career advancement is slow for non-degree holders, and decide to enrol. More commonly, hoteliers are now also interested in the areas of Internet and social networks, for jobs such as hotel social media specialist or community manager, as well as professions in productivity and financial competitiveness, reveals Rouan. The rapid evolution of the Internet and the expansion of social media has significantly changed the relationship between the industry and the customer. “This is creating new demands for particular skills and knowledge that perhaps weren’t seen as necessary in the industry before,” adds Tenten.

For example, the e-reputation of a hotel is now essential and is determined by customers through various social media platforms, including online travel forums and customer-led ranking sites. In the United States alone in just one day, hotel brands are mentioned 3.3b times in 2.4m online conversations. In line with the increasing online input, the flexibility of online programmes are allowing hospitality professionals today to remain employed, yet complete courses in their own time. Or alternatively take individual modules to earn an executive certificate and revive their career prospects. At Glion alone, almost 400 students are learning online, with an average age of 37 and over 15 years’ work experience. “Current online students include professionals from Accor, Hyatt, Rotana, Taj Hotels, Marriott, Starwood, Banyan Tree and the IHG group, to name but a few,” reveals Tenten.

As an alternate to online, Rouan adds that Les Roches has witnessed an increased interest in shorter courses that professionals can take to further their skill set without interrupting their careers. In terms of interest, both hotel schools agree that there has been a big rise in hoteliers looking to develop an in-depth understanding for the wellness and spa industry. “There has also been very promising growth in the region with regards to the spa and wellness industry,” comments Rouan.

According to the Global Wellness Tourism Economy 2013 report, during the next five years the spa sector is predicted to grow at almost double the rate of global tourism, totalling $678.5b in 2017. To put it into perspective, in 2012, wellness tourism accounted for 1.8% of the world’s GDP, creating 11.7m jobs accounting for $1.3t global economic impact. “As a result of this rapid growth, the spa industry is facing major challenges in recruiting enough talent to meet the increasing demand for qualified spa managers,” Rouan confirms.

In a nutshell, while global hotel brands are majorly focused on seeking new ways of improving employee loyalty, retention rates and boosting staff performance, middle-management professionals are looking for flexible programmes that will allow them to improve their skills and career prospects, without leaving their jobs. It’s safe to say that with a continued push from existing hoteliers and those now entering the industry, the world of hospitality will continue to be one of the most dynamic, career-rich and expanding sectors in the world.

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