How Saudi academia and industry are closing ranks to drive hotel innovation
DUBAI: As part of their mission to diversify the national economy away from oil dependence, the Saudi authorities are actively encouraging entrepreneurship among the country’s youth, especially those who wish to work in the booming sector. development of tourism and the hotel industry in the Kingdom.
To advance this agenda, academic institutions are partnering with the private sector to organize events and activities that will help incubate a start-up culture and grow local industries.
An example of this partnership is a new collaboration between Saudi Arabia’s Effat University and Kerten Hospitality that aims to provide opportunities for young people to participate in mentoring sessions and hackathons, social coding events that bring together programmers IT and other developers to improve or build new software systems, while providing support for students who want to start their own business.
“As a lifestyle, ESG, mixed operator, we will remain focused on our key areas – supporting the local community and the young generation of hotel industry players – and focusing on the local in all its spheres, such as hiring and upskilling.” local talent and drive innovation,” Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of Kerten Hospitality, told Arab News. ESG refers to the non-financial environmental, social and governance factors and objectives that influence business decisions.
“In this regard, we aim to stimulate initiatives that will strengthen entrepreneurship through the launch and introduction of new business opportunities for students to launch, run, manage and grow their business,” he said. she adds.
“Innovation plays a very important role in this dynamic as it will help achieve the country’s tourism aspirations.”
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program for social reform and economic diversification aims to increase investment in the leisure, hospitality and tourism sectors, with the aim of attracting at least 100 million visitors to the Kingdom every year by the end of the decade.
Investments in the country’s tourism industry are expected to exceed $1 trillion over the next 10 years. To achieve this, the authorities are working to create an environment conducive to investment and to encourage local entrepreneurs to take the initiative in the development of these industries. Kerten Hospitality offers to share its experience and expertise to help them succeed.
“We are at the beginning of an ecosystem that will become self-sustaining through a connected network of players and performers across multiple industries who work in hospitality,” Knippenberg said.
“We are here to collaborate, adapt our know-how to the local landscape and work together with entities and organizations that are going in the same direction, with the same speed and the same desire to move forward and reach 2030 as accelerators of growth rather than laggards of development.”
She believes it is essential to invest time and resources in a young, motivated generation that is brimming with new ideas and has the most to gain from the Kingdom’s long-term growth and prosperity.
Indeed, according to a report released in April this year by regional digital marketing firm Global Media Insight, an estimated 70% of the Saudi population is under the age of 30. As a result, this demographic is expected to become the engine of the engine. efforts to achieve the goals of Vision 2030.
“Hospitality is found throughout the tourism sector, and human capital development and a focus on young people will be of paramount importance,” Knippenberg said.
“This is where we plan to collaborate with Effat, to support this desire to come closer to achieving this mission.”
Such partnerships are needed precisely because the Kingdom’s hospitality sector is in its formative phase. By working with Effat, Knippenberg hopes his company can help provide young Saudis with the hands-on experience they need to get started.
“That’s why we hope to inspire and stimulate young leaders and minds to contribute to the hospitality space through the expertise gained during their experiences with our global team,” she added.
Sarah Hassan, a 23-year-old graduate student at Effat University, is pursuing a career in logistics and supply chain management within the hospitality industry.
“The hospitality business in Saudi Arabia is huge because of Makkah and Madinah, and Muslims from all over the world travel to visit Saudi Arabia, so it’s one of the strongest industries,” he said. she told Arab News. “But now, with Vision 2030 and the country’s desire to attract more tourists, that is changing.”
In Jeddah, where Hassan grew up, the hospitality industry already plays an important role in the local economy.
“The Jeddah season has just started and I see a lot of people coming from all over Saudi Arabia, (from places) like Riyadh and Abha,” she said.
“The government is allocating all resources to help facilitate the ground. I am now applying for jobs and want to pursue masters in supply chain management abroad so that I can bring this knowledge back to Saudi Arabia. »
The collaboration between Effat University and Kerten will equip students with problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial savvy in an initiative led by Maria Bou Eid, General Manager of The House Hotel Jeddah City Yard. Young Saudis will also learn new skills during internships and apprenticeships in Jeddah and it is hoped that their experiences will motivate them to pursue careers in the hospitality industry.
Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, president of Effat University, said the partnership with Kerten will introduce students to a relatively new job market as the country undergoes far-reaching economic transformation.
“The entire Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going through different kinds of changes, from A to Z,” she told Arab News.
“In order to make students valuable citizens, they really need to engage early in the market to know exactly what the requirements are and how they can meet them once they graduate. Hospitality is truly the way forward for the future of the Kingdom.
“With all these things happening in art and culture, you won’t welcome anyone without hospitality.”
A number of other universities in the Kingdom are establishing similar academic-industry partnerships to help fill experience gaps.
“It’s about making sure we have the market inside the university and vice versa,” Al-Lail said. “If this type of reciprocal relationship is not made from the top management, then it will not reverberate at the different levels of the institution.
“It helps a lot for different departments and colleges to ask for help from the community and work there to really show students what new jobs are available and what skills are needed.”
Al-Lail said she hopes more companies from various fields, including the technology sector, will form partnerships with higher education institutions in the Kingdom so that students can benefit from the advice and guidance. experience they can provide, and maybe even grants and scholarships. .
“It will make a big difference in bridging the gap early on because they can really invest in students during their studies, but it will also immediately prepare them to join their industry after graduation,” he said. she declared.
“It gives them the sustainability to close the gap, while providing jobs for our students.”