By Guy Wilkinson
Viability director Guy Wilkinson says not only is experiential training beneficial for boosting confidence and team relations among your own staff, but that your hotel's facilities could be opened up to bring in extra revenue from other companies investing in such activities.
It's quite a sight. Normally staid clerks and secretaries, executives and managers have today exchanged their suits for jeans, tee shirts and helmets, and are behaving more like trapeze artists, balancing high up on a precipitously tall timber structure in Hatta.
It's part of a hotel-based corporate team building day led by Dubai-based experiential learning company Abami Consultancy & Training. For many of the participants, being dragged out of their daily routines to clamber up a frighteningly high wall is quite a shock to the system and may not be their first choice for a fun day out. But that's the point.
"We all operate within our comfort zones, at home and in the office," explains Abami managing director Graham Nugent. "Our lives are boring and predictable and most people have not been exposed to a 50ft climbing wall.
"You're attached via a rope and a pulley to someone on the ground. You need to use dialogue, communication and trust.
"You're taken outside your comfort zone, succeeding in a strange, alien world thanks to your confidence in another person. And the more we step outside our comfort zone, the more we want to do so again. This experience thus gives us confidence to take on new responsibilities."
An increasing number of people around the Gulf have found new strengths within themselves this way. In the last three years, Abami has held 434 programmes for 240 clients involving 18,000 participants. Operating in Kuwait for 13 years, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for 10 years and Dubai for six years, Abami works with multinationals, banks, oil companies and government institutions, presenting learning and development programmes in both English and Arabic.
The company has four ‘learning centres' in the UAE. The original site is part of the Hatta Fort Hotel in the Hajjar mountains, with such amenities as high rope challenges, the ‘leap of faith' and a climbing wall. The other learning centres are at Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa (part of the hotel's Centre of Excellence, also including the shooting club and football fields), the Dreamland Aqua Park in Umm Al Quwain, and Al Ghazal Golf Club near Abu Dhabi's international airport, the latest to open.
Benefits for hotels
A hotel is an ideal venue for Abami's experiential learning centres because it offers meeting rooms for year-round indoor training activities, catering, toilets and other support amenities. Abami also needs an area of land about the size of a tennis court on which to build its high rope challenge and other outdoor structures. It is one of the few training companies with the capacity to design and build such structures to international safety standards, as well to conduct the training itself.
Staging experiential training thus brings extra revenue to a hotel, with the firm's UAE partner hotels earning a daily delegate rate of around AED 100 per person for catering, as well as room bookings on occasion - about seven or eight courses out of 10 are day courses, with the remainder involving overnight accommodation. Nevertheless, Abami was the largest single revenue source at two of its sites last year.
Above all, however, the experiential training sessions add an element of excitement to their host hotels. "We bring life, energy and movement to a hotel, and there is a real buzz when we're around," claims Nugent, who adds that this buzz can be added to conferences and seminars too. "We do a lot of conference work too and the addition of two or three ‘interventions' during such events can really pep them up."
In these difficult days, training can be seen as a ‘nice to have' budget item, but wise companies are seeing it as an essential investment in human resources, especially as staff are these days being asked to do more work, as workforces are reduced.
Although it is true that company budgets have been cut, training goes on, according to Nugent, with half-day team building sessions often being combined with half day strategy meetings, for example. In this same economic climate, hotels need to look at additional revenue sources and experiential training can be a surprisingly lucrative answer.
Guy Wilkinson is a director of Viability, a hospitality and property consulting firm in Dubai. For more information, email: