Saudi aims to train hotel staff amid tourism boom
Munira al-Rubaian spreads out new bedding in a fake hotel room in the Saudi capital while being closely observed by an instructor in an effort to secure employment in the expanding tourism industry in the desert kingdom.
The 25-year-old unemployed Saudi is one of the thousands of people signed up for the government-run “Tourism Pioneers” programme, which intends to train 100,000 job seekers for a sector that officials claim is about to take off.
Rubaian and other trainees learn jobs including greeting hotel visitors, plating meals at expensive restaurants, and maintaining immaculate luxury suites at two facilities in Riyadh.
Others are sent abroad for brief training in nations like the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and France with significantly more developed tourism sectors.
It is anticipated that this army of freshly hired bellhops, cleaners, and higher-paid hospitality managers will enable Saudi Arabia, a notoriously conservative and closed-off Gulf nation that just recently opened its doors to tourism, to make a good impression on first-timers.
The programme also helps the government hire more Saudis in positions that have typically gone to migrant workers. After failing to obtain employment at a hotel on her own, the niqab-wearing Rubaian joined Tourism Pioneers. She is confident that the exposure will give her a foot in the door.
The 37-year-old de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is depending on a surge in tourism to diversify the country’s economy—the largest oil exporter in the world.
The country established tourist visas in 2019, two years after Prince Mohammed ascended to the throne, but the coronavirus outbreak crushed expectations of an early influx.
Despite this, authorities are still devoted to their baffling target of increasing the number of international visitors they receive annually from just 4 million in 2017 to 30 million by 2030.
In addition, Saudis and international residents make 70 million targeted domestic travels each year.
A projected 30 million of the combined 100 million tourists expected annually will be on religious pilgrimages, primarily to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam.