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The Future Hospitality Summit is set to serve up three days of debate as it opens next week

The Future Hospitality Summit is set to serve up three days of debate as it opens next week

The Future Hospitality Summit is set to serve up three days of debate, insight, exciting industry news and more when it gets under way in Abu Dhabi next week on 25 September under the theme of ‘Focus on Investment.’

A key focus of the region’s leading – and largest – hospitality and tourism summit is on the importance of investing in people, identifying ways to close the talent gap, recruiting and retaining the right workforce and building ESG into the recruitment process.

Mariam Al Musharrekh, Executive Director of Human Resources at Miral, Host Sponsor of FHS, says that recruitment, retention and development remain ever important to cater to increasing demand for sustainable, digitalised, and hyper-personalised guest experiences within the leisure, entertainment, tourism industry.
“A heightened focus on attracting and retaining top talent, while cultivating and investing in their long-term growth and ensuring they have the best possible start to their career will remain paramount for the growth of the industry. An organisation’s workforce must be empowered to contribute meaningfully to sustainable practices by cultivating a culture of ethical governance, community engagement, and continuous learning.
“At Miral, our data-driven approach to recruitment is supported by people-centric retention programmes to ensure that targeted, personalised growth paths instill a sense of belonging among all employees. Emiratisation is a core pillar of how we propel our nation’s local talent towards success, bolstering our commitment to accelerating the realisation of Abu Dhabi’s tourism growth. Our vocational training and career development programmes also ensure more young Emiratis thrive to become future leaders and are empowered to play an active role in advancing the UAE’s economic development,” she adds.

In the run up to FHS, Mariam Al Musharrekh and other hospitality sector leaders share their thoughts on key factors relating to workforce skills, finding and keeping talent, attracting UAE and KSA nationals and the importance of building ESG into the recruitment process.  Read on for insight from Dimitris Manikis, President EMEA, Wyndham Hotel & Resorts; Sunil John, President - Middle East and North Africa, ASDA’A-BCW, Paul Griep, Director of Industry & Alumni Relations Hotelschool The Hague and Jeroen Greven, Managing Director, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management.

With guests’ needs ever-changing and new technology playing an increasing role in the hospitality sector, how can we ensure that workforce skills remain relevant?  Is more investment needed in finding and retaining the right people for the job?  


Mariam Al Musharrekh, Executive Director of Human Resources at Miral: The hospitality sector has gone through a revolution over the past few years through the integration of digital ecosystems within its operations. Following this revolution, recruitment, retention and development remain a focal point for success within the industry, as hospitality professionals are key to driving hyper-personalized experiences. 

Now, more than ever, the workforce must be bigger, broader thinkers, and must be technically equipped to deal with an increasingly agile workforce. A heightened focus on investing in finding the right individuals for specific roles is paramount. It is also important to nurture top-tier talent as it directly correlates with long-term organisational success. 

Dimitris Manikis, President EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: I imagine many among us look back on the evolution of our industry and wonder what we did before the digital era enveloped us; the opportunity to streamline operations, optimise resources, and increase efficiency has been valuable far beyond simply growing revenue - providing endless opportunities to elevate guest experiences and freeing up staff for more personalised interactions. 

Our industry thrives on human connection. While technology certainly enhances experiences, it’s the human touch that truly matters and what our guests remember. Investing in finding and nurturing the right talent is vital for success. It requires passionate individuals who understand the delicate balance between technology and hospitality, and by dedicating more of our time and budgets towards mentorship programmes, cross-training, and tailored development paths, we can enable our teams to navigate change confidently and achieve exceptional outcomes. 

The short answer is yes, investment is needed, but it’s not just about investing more money. It’s also about investing in the next generation and starting at the grassroots. This means working with schools and universities to facilitate internship programmes that ensure young talent learns from industry leaders and builds towards the future.

Sunil John, President - Middle East and North Africa, ASDA’A-BCW:  Over the years, ASDA’A BCW has provided communications consultancy to some of the leading hospitality majors in the region, including homegrown and now international brands such as Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts.

From our experience of working with the hospitality leaders, we believe that what really sets them apart is their people. As a service industry, it is the personal passion and commitment that the employees bring which build hotel brands. 

In today’s fast changing, digital-driven landscape, the teams must stay up to date and current with the latest skills and knowledge to remain relevant and productive.

The industry can assist them in this journey by investing in training programs that build on their existing expertise and provide them with new competencies that will both prepare them for the future of work as well as improve their job satisfaction and loyalty. 

There are certain timeless qualities that anyone looking to start their career in the hospitality industry should have – first and foremost, a sense of customer service; attention to detail; interpersonal skills; and flexibility. 

Paul Griep, Director of Industry & Alumni Relations Hotelschool The Hague: I don’t necessarily believe that finding and retaining the right people for the job immediately means a higher investment considering only “costs”.  Investment is needed, but I believe this is more from a creative and innovative nature.  Young graduates entering the industry will already be way more tech savvy than we sometimes realize. Education should entice and develop these innovations and industry should encourage, use and take positive advantage of these skills when applying and/or developing tech related aspects of service. I believe both education as well as the industry can make a true competitive difference by assessing which aspects of the hospitality journey can be resolved by technology and which aspects will need more “human” touch. Due to the increase in tech, there may and should be more focus on “touch” in other high impact areas of the guest journey.

Jeroen Greven, Managing Director, The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management: In a rapidly evolving hospitality landscape, continuous learning and upskilling are crucial to keep workforce skills relevant. On demand learning incorporating emerging technologies and industry trends enables employees to adapt and excel. Moreover, fostering a culture of learning and innovation encourages staff to embrace change. To ensure the right workforce is applied in the right role, substantial investment is indeed necessary, both in learning and in effective skills assessment/role matching tools. Retention can be enhanced by providing growth opportunities, work-life balance, and a supportive work environment. By prioritizing both skill development and employee satisfaction, the sector can thrive amidst changing guest needs and technological advancements.

The Middle East, and especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is investing in tourism and hospitality at unprecedented levels, and it’s believed that close to 100,000 skilled hospitality professionals are needed by 2026.  What are the best ways to attract and retain talent in the hospitality industry?  Have recruitment and retention practices changed over the last few years and, if so, how? 

Mariam Al Musharrekh: In the Middle East’s hospitality industry, customer experience is pivotal, therefore attracting and retaining top talent requires a multifaceted approach. Given the region’s diverse workforce, it is important to establish a positive environment that offers an inclusive culture and provides opportunities for growth and development. At Miral, we believe our family friendly approach and the implementation of recognition programmes and clear career growth paths can instil a sense of belonging among employees. 

Over the last few years, we have seen notable transformations in recruitment and retention practices, with the shift attributed to various factors including technological advancements and changing market dynamics. With the use of data-driven approaches recruitment has become more targeted and personalised, aiding to the identification of more suitable candidates.

Dimitris Manikis: The Middle East’s hospitality surge demands a strategic approach to talent. Attracting and retaining the right professionals hinges on fostering a dynamic workplace culture and offering clear growth opportunities. Our industry’s appeal lies in the diverse roles that bring together a melting pot of skills and expertise under one roof, from guest services to management positions. Saudi Arabia can be the “lab” where an array of new techniques, approaches to talent, and recruitment can be tested in action. 

We have indeed witnessed an evolution of recruitment and retention practices in line with the changing needs and expectations of candidates and employees, with a much more conscious focus on inclusivity, work-life balance, and career progression. Collaborating with local educational institutions and offering internships aligns us with the new generation of emerging talent. At the same time, competitive benefits packages, and internal training programmes, such as the Wyndham University, are designed to inspire loyalty and the desire to grow with the brand. 

Sunil John: Hospitality has no doubt evolved as one of the top sectors creating new jobs, especially for youth. In fact, our 15th edition of our annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey – the largest of its kind survey of the Arab world’s largest demographic – its youth, finds that the hospitality sector is one of the Top 10 preferred sectors by young Arabs to pursue their careers. 

To attract regional talent, it is important that the hospitality sector underlines the growth opportunities it provides – across diverse functions. Typically, in the region, the hospitality sector has been dominated by expatriate professionals – and there is an urgent need to nurture and build robust career choices for Nationals. 

Our 2023 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey also revealed that nearly half of Arab youth aspire to start their own businesses in the next five years, demonstrating a strong entrepreneurial spirit within the GCC, and showing that many future hospitality leaders may arrive to the sector as company founders and future hospitality leaders. 

Paul Griep: We, as an Industry, have an opportunity to do this “right” this time. For decades our Industry was known for underpaying and overworking. I believe the need for 100,000 skilled professionals is both the biggest challenge they face as well as the greatest opportunity in decades to come. There are various forms of quick fixes that may suit the numbers needed as described above.  However, this may not be the most sustainable and/or ethical which will be accepted at a lesser extent by newer generations. I believe that due to the large investments made and the growth foreseen, that there is an opportunity to “recreate” some aspects of our Industry. Traditional hospitality jobs should be analyzed and assessed in order to make these more challenging in a new innovative way.  Combining tasks and thus broadening job descriptions will not only make our Industry one for which you need proper training and education and thus seen as a real profession and will therefore also encourage and enthuse young professionals to enter our Industry again.  The challenge KSA is facing is an opportunity whereby all stakeholders, it being education, industry and government can play a value adding role leading to a situation whereby the Industry is truly sought after and the practices are truly sustainable.
Jeroen Greven: To attract and retain talent in the hospitality industry, a multi-faceted approach is key. Firstly, showcasing the unique opportunities and experiences that the Middle East offers can be a strong draw for candidates. Collaborating with educational institutions to provide specialized hospitality programs can also nurture a local talent pipeline. Recruitment practices have evolved to emphasize cultural fit, diversity, and inclusivity, reflecting changing societal values. Retention strategies now encompass tailored career paths, mentorship programs, and a focus on work-life balance. Employee well-being and development have gained prominence, fostering loyalty and reducing turnover. As the industry expands, a strategic mix of appealing incentives and employee-centric policies will remain central to securing and nurturing a skilled workforce.

Given government Emiratisation and Saudisation directives, how are you identifying, acquiring and retaining Arab youth talent? 
Mariam Al Musharrekh: Miral is committed to accelerating the realisation of Abu Dhabi’s tourism growth and is positively impacting the communities we serve. Through our programmes and initiatives, we attract, upskill, and empower the UAE’s incredible local talent. Our career development programme, “Maharaty”, ensures more Emiratis thrive to become future leaders. It is a testament to how we propel our nation’s young local talent towards success. Participants are empowered to hone and enhance their potential, experience, and leadership skills within the LET sectors, and play an active role in advancing the UAE’s economic development. Our three-month Ambassador training programme provides hands-on training at our world-class theme parks, such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, where they can be equipped with the required skills and knowledge to join the theme park industry and excel in the leisure and entertainment sector. 

Dimitris Manikis : Aligning with Emiratisation and Saudisation goals, our approach to nurturing Arab youth talent involves forging partnerships with educational institutions, continuing to offer internships and mentorship programs, and remaining committed to creating an environment where young local talents can flourish and contribute meaningfully to the industry. By celebrating our cultural diversity and fostering inclusivity, we want to authentically cultivate a workforce that represents the region. Further to this, recruitment practices are also evolving when attracting new generations. 

While traditional methods like job postings and interviews remain essential, we recognise the importance of embracing modern tools. Social media and public channels now play a valuable role across the sector and beyond in showcasing brand identity, company culture, and operational excellence to potential candidates. By engaging these platforms, we not only attract potential talent but also resonate with new and loyal guests who value transparency and authenticity. By building a meaningful culture, we make sure that these talented individuals choose our industry versus any other.

Sunil John: Within our business, ASDA’A BCW operates within a dynamic and diverse cultural eco-system for employees, and we have 27 different nationalities amongst our 160 employees across our regional offices.

We offer opportunity for National youth with no previous communications experience to join our training and mentorship program and apply for entry level roles. 

We are implementing an internship program that will help us to identify and acquire local youth talent, and we additionally have an outreach program aimed at attracting talent from the top universities to enter the business at a junior level. 

Paul Griep: Pride in the Industry and pride in the skills that fulfill the job are key here.  This can be stimulated by all governmental entities such as ministries of tourism, ministries of education, hospitality associations, educational institutes and industry partners. As per the question above, retaining the talent will undoubtedly be correlated with the career development opportunities the industry will offer. In this setting whereby there is an opportunity to start with a “blank sheet of paper” one can redefine some of the processes and create and develop jobs and career paths that are quite different from the traditional ones.
Jeroen Greven: Embracing Emiratisation and Saudisation directives requires a proactive and comprehensive talent approach. Identifying Arab youth talent involves partnering with local educational institutions to establish targeted recruitment pipelines. Creating internship programs, apprenticeships, and job shadowing opportunities can provide hands-on experience and attract young talent. Acquiring this talent involves clear communication of the organization’s commitment to fostering growth and providing meaningful work. Retaining Arab youth talent necessitates a supportive work environment that values their aspirations and offers opportunities for career advancement. Mentorship programs, leadership development, and skill enhancement programs can contribute to their long-term engagement. By aligning organizational goals with national directives and providing tailored growth paths, the hospitality industry can successfully attract, acquire, and retain Arab youth talent.. 
With an ever-increasing focus on sustainability and the environment, how can we ensure that we are developing talent in a responsible, ESG-driven way?  

Dimitris Manikis: Today, more than ever, it’s essential to ensure talent development follows a responsible, ESG-driven path. With much of the world’s focus shifting toward a more sustainable future, it’s a responsibility that falls on all of us to ensure we integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles into training programs. This could involve promoting ethical practices, emphasising waste reduction, and encouraging community involvement. By instilling the values of our Wyndham Green Programme, for example, in our team, we’re not just cultivating skilled professionals but also advocates for positive change. This reflects the growing regional focus on sustainability and acts as our own blueprint for working towards a more responsible hospitality industry.

Sunil John: We are dedicated to attracting and nurturing talent who have a specific interest and expertise within the sustainability sector. In fact, we are one of the first communications consultancies to launch our dedicated Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, named OnePoint5, with the goal of addressing the say-do gap in ESG goals and their implementation. As such, we are developing talent who are keen to understand and be part of our ESG offering. We work with several organisations in the region on their ESG frameworks and we believe that for organisations to realise their true purpose, it is important to invest in passionate talent who can make a difference. 

Paul Griep: This is an interesting dynamic as I believe that the current talent entering the market is ahead of the Industry when it comes to the passion, drive, commitment and responsibility related to sustainability.  This generation makes choices related to sustainability that our Industry doesn’t always realize yet and thus faces a challenge in that respect.  An unprecedented large percentage of young graduates is and will continue to select an employer based on sustainability factors. At the same time they are motivated by making an impact and thus offering and empowering them to make this impact at all levels can make a true difference in attaining, but also retaining this talent.  This impact should not limit itself to the most common and known aspects only, such as climate.  This talent pool is also especially interested in companies “doing good” on other levels such as equality, fighting poverty and offering opportunities to the underprivileged. Any program or initiative whereby they can create impact on any of the aspects of ESG will motivate this generation.
Jeroen Greven: Developing talent with an ESG-driven focus involves several strategies. Start by incorporating sustainability modules into training programs to raise awareness. Foster a culture of responsible practices through continuous education on environmental and social issues. Implement mentorship programs where seasoned professionals guide talent in ESG considerations. Collaborate with sustainability experts to offer workshops that instill practical skills. Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate a commitment to ESG values. Lastly, weave ESG principles into leadership development, ensuring responsible decision-making at all levels. By integrating ESG into talent development, the industry can contribute to a more sustainable and responsible future.

The Future Hospitality Summit takes place at the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island, 25 – 27 September.