quotes A rising tourism trend: Purpose-driven tourism

10 April 2024
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Updated 10 April 2024

A rising tourism trend: Purpose-driven tourism

In the first part of this two-part series, I discussed some of the reasons Saudi citizens have mostly avoided service roles. Chief among these reasons is the lack of independence often associated with service roles. The reality is more complex, of course. We can change this mindset by highlighting the ways in which working in hospitality roles can be empowering. We can then make these roles more fulfilling for people.

The benefits to society will be numerous. When Saudis perceive this work as honorable, they will not only be doing themselves a favor by cultivating a more sustainable society but also benefiting the workers, who will be able to feel greater self-respect in these roles.

Dr. Ghazi Al-Gossaibi was an innovator in this area. During his tenure as the minister of labor, he took it upon himself to inspire young Saudis by working at Applebee’s and Fuddrucker’s, serving food to customers. His intention was to break the stigma surrounding this role. While he made great progress, it is incumbent upon all of us to carry on his work and continue challenging the notion that working in hospitality is anything less than honorable.

The truth is that it is possible to empower Saudi hospitality workers and transform these currently undesirable roles into long-term, fulfilling careers by granting them the same autonomy as our cherished baristas.

There is another trend worth noting here. Recently, tour companies have emerged, offering people the opportunity to visit Italy and other countries for short-term stays. This alone is not noteworthy. What is remarkable is that as part of these stays, tourists engage in service roles such as waiter and barista. People pay for this experience.

Similarly, companies like GoOverseas.com facilitate recruitment for desirable positions, such as teaching, in foreign countries. This differs from volunteer tourism, where tourists offer their time to less financially privileged individuals, as well as from transformative tourism, where tourists seek personal growth. More akin to this “waiter tourism” is the remote tourism that the Faroe Islands promoted during the pandemic, due to its deeply counterintuitive nature.

So, what is happening when someone pays to work a job?

One theory suggests that individuals are willing to pay for the opportunity to work a job because they believe it will benefit them in other ways. In 2015, Taleb Rifai, the secretary of the World Tourism Organization, echoed this sentiment regarding transformative tourism: “Though small actions may seem inconsequential, just imagine the widespread impact of one responsible action multiplied one billion times.” There is a lesson for all of us to learn from the rise of these trends: waiter tourism, transformative tourism, and foreign recruitment for service roles in the Kingdom. People seek purpose, and they are prepared to invest in it.

One Gartner study supports this conclusion, revealing that 82 percent of workers consider it very important for their employers to regard them as individuals. Consequently, any role perceived as dehumanizing, such as service roles labeled “dishonorable,” is at a distinct and possibly insurmountable disadvantage. The solution lies in altering the nature of the work.

People have been clear about their desires. Rather than just seeking more time away from work, they yearn for meaning. They want personal growth, to challenge themselves, not merely to survive and avoid trouble. Through transformational travel and the voices of the workers themselves, we can see a direct path to a stronger hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia, driven by purposeful work.

• Abeer S. Al-Saud is an op-ed writer for Arab News, exploring development, peace, and cultural topics. The views expressed in this piece are personal. X: @abeersalsaud