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Sun 1 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

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Authenticity issues need addressing

Walk into a hotel anywhere in the UAE and would you really know where in the world you were standing?

Walk into a hotel anywhere in the UAE and would you really know where in the world you were standing?

The Arabic-inspired architecture of some properties may give the game away, but more often than not, the nationality of the staff lets the side down.

How many UAE nationals work in the country's hotel and hospitality industry? I could probably count them on one hand, and I believe that this absence of local influence robs customers of an authentic experience.

I'm not the only one. I recently chatted to the CEO and president of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Peter de Jong, who noted during his recent visit to Dubai that authentic Arabic hospitality was lacking at the hotels he visited.

He hinted that while the quality of service was good, the quality of experience was poor.

"I was in the Middle East, but I did not get served by one local," he remarked.

His experience was obviously a stark contrast to Asia where citizens live and breathe hospitality.

And that's what's so ridiculous - so do the UAE nationals and the Arabic people in general - but this is not translated to the UAE's hospitality industry, or that of Qatar, for that matter.

Mr de Jong said the situation denoted a negative attitude towards the service industry that was undeserved.

Despite the implementation of an Emiratisation programme and attempts by some hotel groups to embrace it, there is no excitement built around pursuing a career in hospitality. It is not considered a sexy career option, when in fact the Middle East in particular offers several opportunities for career advancement.

This issue needs addressing to ensure the UAE's hotel and hospitality industry goes from strength to strength.

Guests are increasingly demanding an authentic experience as they globetrot, whether they are business or leisure travellers. Even the time poor corporate client wants to soak up the local culture during his evening stopover in Dubai.

So how will you as hoteliers make sure your guests know where they are in the world when they stay at your property? It will take a lot more effort than merely handing over a shisha pipe.

We forget that most people don't know the difference between Bahrain and Qatar, or Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so going forward, differentiating each destination is essential.

We can't rely on the Burj Al Arab to define Dubai forever.

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