By Elizabeth Broomhall
Slate of new properties to spur jobs growth, but seen unlikely to aid Emirati employment
Hundreds of jobs are to be created in Abu Dhabi over the next six months as the first in a wave of new hotels open their doors in the UAE capital.
Four luxury properties are slated to launch in November alone, providing jobs for more than 1,200 service staff and behind-the-scenes employees, hoteliers said.
A further six new hotels are scheduled to open in early 2012, opening up a fresh source of job creation for the emirate’s economy, said analyst Chiheb Ben Mahmoud.
“New positions will have to be filled by new people,” said Mahmoud, head of hotel advisory for MENA, Jones Lang LaSalle.
“There will be an amount of transfer [between hotels], but there will be a net import of labour. The new hotels have the capacity to train, so it makes sense for them to hire new people.”
The staff-guest ratio in the Middle East is also higher than that seen in rival tourism markets, due to the level of service expected in luxury hotels, he said.
“[Tourism] is very labour intensive, but especially in this part of the world. Here, hospitality is very service-oriented and the ratios of employee per room are higher than in other regions.”
The UAE plans to attract 15 million tourists by 2020 under efforts to diversify its petrodollar-driven economy. Abu Dhabi is spending billions on visitor attractions such as the Yas and Saadiyat Island developments, in a bid to establish itself as a global travel hub.
Abu Dhabi’s state tourism arm said in September that 1,347,782 guests had stayed in the city’s hotels and hotel apartments in the first eight months of the year, putting the emirate on track to reach its target of two million hotel guests in 2011.
Tourism currently accounts for 3.2 percent of the UAE capital’s GDP.
Speaking to Arabian Business, hotel chain executives said they were hiring anything between 200 and 1,000 staff for each new property, many of whom were yet to be employed.
The Westin Golf Resort and Spa, due to open November 1, said it had taken on 267 new people, while the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi has hired 430 for its debut.
But the wave of job creation is unlikely to help address the looming problem of Emirati unemployment, analysts warned. The hospitality market remains largely dependent on expatriate labour, a situation that is unlikely to change, said Guy Wilkinson, general manager of consultancy Viability.
“The problem is that there is strictly limited demand among local nationals to enter this sector, which is renowned for its long hours and – by comparison to such popular occupations as working in government or banking – low pay,” he said.
“Abu Dhabi citizens, who enjoy a super welfare system, are thus unlikely to be in need of a job in the hotel sector.”
The UAE Minister of Labour said in September the country was failing to attract nationals into private sector jobs, and warned the public sector had reached saturation point.
Saqr Gobash said the government was mulling a plan to subsidize the wages of Emiratis in private sector roles in a bid to close the gap between benefits on offer in government jobs.
“So far the hotel sector has not been very successful in providing Emiratis with the required proposition, in terms of wages, job type and the culture,” said Mahmoud. “They have not been successful in striking the right chord."