JEDDAH: SARAH ABDULLAH
Published — Monday 4 March 2013
Last update 4 March 2013 2:25 am
The glaring lack of services at many hotels in the Kingdom, especially those in the two holy cities, has provoked a chorus of complaints from guests. Many hoteliers say, however, that the problem lies not with the hotels themselves, but with restrictions on the hiring of expatriate workers.
“Overall, from a hotel management perspective, it is more cost efficient to hire Saudis than expats,” Shuja Zaidi, vice president of Projects Saudi Arabia, general manager of the Makkah Hilton and lead adviser on the Jabal Omer Project, said in a speech to the first session of Cityscape Jeddah yesterday. “The problem is that many Saudis, despite high unemployment in the Kingdom, do not want to work in the hotel or hospitality sector.”
Zaidi admitted that there are many challenges involved in accommodating guests at peak periods, especially in Makkah and Madinah during religious observations, and sometimes hotels can fall short in customer service.
“However, many of the difficulties are often times not the fault of the hotel, but stem from the fact that we are limited by the Ministry of Labor as to how many expat workers we can recruit,” Zaidi said.
The Ministry of Labor has also put tight restrictions on who can be recruited, requiring that employees be male and Muslim, according to Zaidi. He went on to call for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) to work with the Ministry of Labor and the hospitality sector to help raise public awareness of the benefits of working in the industry in order to attract more Saudi employees to the sector.
“Currently, I have two Saudis working in housekeeping at my hotel and I treat them better than my management staff, why? Because they are unique and it is rare to find Saudis in this country working in housekeeping.
Nonetheless, the SCTA and government authorities should provide incentives to change this by raising the awareness of high school students so they can see that working in the hospitality industry can be rewarding and it is a good industry to work in,” Zaidi said.
He suggested that the SCTA first tackle the issue of low salaries, however, by creating a fund to subsidize raises for Saudi employees.
“For example, if a hotel can pay a monthly salary of SR 3,000, the SCTA should match that with SR 3,000 for a total salary of SR 6,000 to make the sector more appealing to work in and promote Saudization,” Zaidi said.
Another incentive is that Saudis will train from the bottom to the top, allowing them to acquire the expertise to be transferred to high-end markets such as the US or Europe.
“In the hotel business, we do not hire management from outside the company but internally, meaning that the bellhop will someday be working in management in a hotel somewhere around the globe,” he said, adding that he has trained several Saudi employees who are now working in Hilton hotels abroad.
Speaking about the future of hotels, the hospitality sector and religious tourism in the Kingdom, Zaidi said that the main selling point is that investment in the hospitality industry in Makkah or Madinah will always bring high returns because of the enormous amount of religious tourism that inevitably takes place in those cities.