Meet the Saudi women running 5-star hotels

Sarah Qassim, Jabal Omar Hotels managing director, is shown speaking at a meeting in this handout photo.
Updated 19 January 2018
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Meet the Saudi women running 5-star hotels

RIYADH: Saudi women are making their mark in the hospitality world with friendly smiles and welcoming phrases. Some of them have reached beyond that and are now leading the industry and running high-end properties.

Sarah Qassim is the managing director at Jabal Omar, which is initiating a mega-project around the Makkah’s holy mosque, consisting of 40 towers.

When asked about her experience in the industry, Omar said: “When I first started in 2007 at the InterContinental Hotel in Jeddah, I was one of the first Saudi women who entered this industry; there were foreigners but not a Saudi. It was difficult. I doubted myself; people looked down on me in the beginning. Society couldn’t understand why I chose to work in the hospitality industry. They didn’t understand that it is my passion. Nowadays its completely different. After the King Abdullah Scholarship program, I believe it had a huge impact on women, definitely leading and taking bigger roles.”

Sarah is also an author. “In the hotel lobby” is the title of her published book, which she classifies as an “educational novel.” Most of the story takes place in the lobby; the idea of the novel is based on her experiences in the hotel’s lobby, which spans over 10 years.

Also, a lecturer on hospitality, she gives workshops for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Natural Heritage, and around 30 females, attend.

Sarah emphasizes: “Saudis are known for their generosity; when you go abroad, they recite poems about our hospitality, culture and beliefs. We are now trying to integrate it with international standards.”

Maram Gogandi, also a leading Saudi female in the hotel industry, was appointed general manager for Park Inn Hotel in Jeddah in 2017, with 12 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

Gogandi has worked all over the world and accumulated many awards, one being an international one — The Company Hospitality Award — which she received in 2017 in Paris. She says that many were pleasantly surprised: “I was the first Arab to win it. It is an international award.”

The high position she holds now didn’t come easy, but after many years of hardships and hard work. Gogandi explains: “I was the first Saudi woman to work in sales for the government and VIP sector. It was difficult then, but now it’s a different story. Now I’m being applauded. Rezidor’s leadership, program supported me and looked into promoting a qualified Saudi female.”

She adds: “Rezidor’s leadership program now has 102 ladies, 21 of whom are in executive positions.”

“My plan is to meet with other hotels and companies, and help train Saudis of both genders. I am now making a requirements program for all Saudis. It will be systemized with specific requirements, in a specific process, in which we can define their skills and put them in the correct position in which they will be able to give more. Even training companies will benefit; we want to make a generation of leaders.”

These leading ladies spoke on their experiences during their long years in the industry. What was noted was that in the span of 10 years many things have changed. What was once considered taboo, and ladies working in this field were looked down upon, is now considered normal and even applauded. They give credit to the King Abdullah Scholarship Program which helped normalize their presence in this field and made it acceptable.

Veteran Saudi females in the hospitality industry are working hard and smart to elevate the status of Saudi women one step at a time.


MiSK, Qiddiya team up for internship program 

Updated 25 March 2019
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MiSK, Qiddiya team up for internship program 

  • Interns will work on entertainment mega-project
  • Program open to university seniors and new graduates

RIYADH: A new internship program for young Saudis has been launched in the Kingdom, following a partnership between Misk Foundation and the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC).

The program runs from June 16 to Aug. 31, 2019, and provides an opportunity for university seniors and recent graduates to be part of Qiddiya, an entertainment mega-project located 40 minutes from Riyadh.

Interns will have the chance to work at Qiddiya’s corporate offices alongside professionals from around the world and will be placed across 12 departments.

They will learn and develop skills that are required to succeed in their professional lives.

They will also gain exposure to QIC’s culture and learn from executives with over 20 years of experience across several sectors. 

QIC CEO Mike Reininger said: “We are contributing directly to the Saudi Vision (2030 reform plan) by creating a richer lifestyle for Saudi citizens while spurring innovation in the creative, hospitality and entertainment sectors. This unique opportunity allows students and fresh graduates to experience what it takes to be part of the change in Saudi by giving them the chance to work alongside a group of both local and international seasoned professionals. Thanks to this partnership with MiSK, we will be training the next generation of industry leaders.” 

Application to the program is open for those with fewer than two years of professional experience. Candidates must show strong academic credentials and submit a short video as part of their application.

King Salman led the Qiddiya ground-breaking ceremony in front of a global audience last April.

The project is aimed at helping to stem the $30 billion a year which Saudis currently spend abroad on tourism, and has the backing of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

It targets local, regional and international tourists and will be Saudi Arabia’s preeminent entertainment, sports and cultural destination.

It is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city by 2030, with a total area of 334 square kilometers, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida, which is only 110 sq. km.