Mansoor Ahmed, director for MENA region for healthcare, education and public private partnership (PPP) at Colliers International, tackles the hot topic of hospitality education.
The GCC’s hospitality sector has been a direct beneficiary of government reforms aimed at diversifying state revenues away from oil income. Across the GCC, governments have eased visa restrictions and built world-class retail and leisure destinations to attract tourists, which has led to a surge in demand of hotels in the region. The total keys across the GCC region reached more than 375,000 in 2019, the highest share captured by KSA (54%), followed by UAE (36%), while the remaining 10% were distributed among other GCC members.
The industry has now become as strong pillar of economic development, contributing 11% to UAE’s economy (as per UAE’s Ministry of Economy). While the contribution of the sector to the GDP of KSA stands at 3% currently, this is expected to grow to 5% by 2021 and 10% by 2030 according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
As a result, the industry has emerged as a leading recruiter, employing about 25.2 million people in 2019, growing at CAGR of 3.4% since 2014 as per Euromonitor, subsequently generating additional employment for 3.7 million people. Furthermore, the two major markets of KSA and UAE account for 54% and 26% of this pool. Driven by long-term prospects, the industry is expected to require 11 million additional workers by 2030, with KSA alone requiring 7.9 million workers in the sector and UAE requiring 842,000 workers as per Colliers analysis. Both these markets provide compelling opportunities for education providers in the hospitality education sector.
In Dubai, the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM) — which forms part of Jumeirah Group — has been the first institution of higher education established in the Middle East offering internationally recognized degree-level courses that focus on hospitality business education. Apart from that, only a few education providers have taken notice and explored the opportunity. For instance, as per data provided by KHDA, there are approximately 600 students enrolled in tourism and hospitality specializations across five institutions across Dubai (excluding EAHM), up from 389 in 2013/14. Middlesex University alone accounts for 68% of total enrolment, with over 400 students. The numbers are surprisingly low, which could be because most of the expat employees complete their education before working in the region. In such scenarios, further education programs could prove to be attractive to prospective students to help them to move up the corporate ladder.
In KSA, however, the scenario is different, with a handful of institutes offering hospitality-related courses, such as High Training Institute of The Saudi International Academy for Tourism & Hospitality (Jeddah), Abdul Mohsen Alhokair Higher Institute for Hospitality (Riyadh), the segment remains largely untapped. With “Saudization” of hospitality jobs announced in 2019 and the groundbreaking measures announced to boost tourism in the country, it is likely that there will be exponential demand for related courses from Saudis looking to get ahead and be ready for potential opportunities.
This is an opportune time for education providers to enhance their offerings to the sector and take advantage of the early-mover phenomenon. Programs targeting front office workers and hotel administration will be in high demand. Institutes must try to adapt their programs to the needs of the traveler and the society curriculum, something that is unique to the region. Integration of technology into the curriculum is the need of the hour to address the cataclysmic change it is bringing to the industry.
While the industry may be reeling under the global impact of COVID-19 now, the long-term prospects of the industry remain intactm providing unique opportunities for higher education providers across the GCC.