JEDDAH: The tourism and hospitality industries are relatively new to the Kingdom, and many Saudi students have entered the field, with opportunities made possible by the government to join scholarship programs.
Salman Gasim, CEO of the Swiss Hospitality Company, said that many government bodies have created scholarships to cater to growing fields in the Kingdom and equip Saudi students with the right tools to help boost such sectors, which include entertainment, culture, hospitality and tourism.
Gasim said that Al-Qiddiya, a megaproject under the auspices of the Public Investment Fund, launched its own scholarship program in 2019 with the support of the General Entertainment Authority, sending around 60 students to the US to pursue bachelor’s degrees in tourism and entertainment management.
He highlighted that this is one of the many prime examples of the Kingdom’s efforts in encouraging growing industries.
“The Ministry of Culture launched a scholarship that targets culture-related majors, including hospitality, tourism, and the culinary arts. We foresee a trend in which other ministries and government organizations, even semi-government organizations, will have their own scholarship programs,” he told Arab News.
Gasim added that, based on historical data on what the Ministry of Culture and NEOM did, he believes there will be more such scholarship programs on the way.
“The scholarship program will bring tremendous benefit to the candidates. It’s not only high-quality education that they are receiving, but also exposure to diversity, which helps them to develop a more globalized mentality. This is very beneficial for Saudi Arabia, a country working to open up more to tourists from the global community and showcase what it has to offer.”
“Having local talents with such mindsets is crucial. Scholarships are one of the main ways to adopt that,” added Gasim.
Florent Rondez, vice president of government relations at Swiss Education Group, said that Swiss hospitality has a historical story to it, dating back over a 100 years, when Switzerland greatly benefited from tourism during the Belle Époque.
Why is Switzerland well-known for hospitality education?
“When the rich began travelling within Europe, they had to cross the Alps to cross Switzerland. As these travelers had horse-drawn carriages, they had to stop occasionally so that the animals could rest. Switzerland thus had to build alpine stops to cater to the needs of those travelers, passing from one place to another,” Rondez told Arab News.
He said that Switzerland has always been known for its educational system, which is similar to that of Germany: A practice of blending practical with academic, unlike the US, where it is purely academic and theoretical.
“Switzerland is very hands-on in all its fields, from the watch industry and beyond,” he said, highlighting that the field of hospitality did not stem from academia but from hotel owners themselves, who established the area of study. Rondez said that Switzerland was a pioneer in understanding the need for training professionals in the industries of hospitality and tourism. “It was the hotel owners who decided that we should establish a school to train people so that they could hire those trainees.”
Such was the reason behind establishing the first hospitality school ever in the world in Switzerland, 127 years ago. The École hôtelière de Lausanne was established by professionals from within the industry. Rondez explained that Saudi students would be learning a more international approach to hospitality, adding that Saudi culture is already very hospitable.
The scholarship program will bring tremendous benefit to the candidates. It’s not only high-quality education that they are receiving, but also exposure to diversity, which helps them to develop a more globalized mentality.
Salman Gasim, CEO of the Swiss, Hospitality Company
“What is very important to understand is we (Switzerland) should not say ‘We need to train the Saudis and teach them hospitality.’ That’s wrong. Saudis are a very hospitable people. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, even Asia, have their own way of demonstrating hospitality. I have been to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. They know how to welcome people and look after them,” said Rondez.
He added that Saudi students will be immersed in diversity. “We won’t teach them Swiss culture,” he said. “We will teach them international culture.”
What we learned here was not limited to the curriculum, which anyone can print from online and read back home. In our first term in service class, for example, we learned manners, professionalism, precision, attention to details.
Mohammed Basyouni, Saudi student at Cesar, Ritz Colleges, Switzerland
Saudi student at Cesar Ritz Colleges Switzerland, Mohammed Basyouni, is in his final semester. He shared his learning experiences, merging practical with theoretical.
“What we learned here was not limited to the curriculum, which anyone can print from online and read back home. In our first term in service class, for example, we learned manners, professionalism, precision, attention to details,” he told Arab News.
He added: “We also learned patience. That way, when we embark on the practical internship, we will have the ability to work under pressure. We started from zero and climbed our way up; we wiped tables and polished glasses and cutlery.”
Basyouni highlighted that hospitality internships allow students to apply this sort of practical knowledge shortly after acquiring theoretical knowledge.
“I also enjoyed the theoretical part that we learned in school. In less than six months since taking those courses, we have applied that knowledge in real life through our internships,” he said.