Dubai – “ASWAQ”
Foreign tourists to the Emirates not only want to visit malls, pristine beaches, landmark buildings and deserts, but many would also like to interact with Emiratis who can truly represent their country, city and culture.
Visitors who usually spend very limited time in the country would want to make the most out of their visit so as to make it more meaningful, authentic and a memorable experience, by interacting with Emiratis.
According to a lecturer at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, Christopher Dutt, “Successful, long-term tourism very much depends on authenticity of which the most part of that is the local culture and people. A lot of attractions in Dubai are tailored and do not represent the local culture so much, although this is changing. There must be more initiatives to get locals showing off their culture. It is an amazing culture but not revealed to tourists. People see Dubai as shopping malls and I don’t think they understand or respect what it truly is,” he said.
Mr Dutt said, in a recent article in the Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, that showing tourists true Emirati culture would mean they had more memorable experiences to share with their families and friends back home, thus increasing the likelihood of tourists wanting to return and spend more money. Most foreigners would want to see Emiratis checking them into their hotel, showing them around dive sites, telling them about the history or experiences in the desert as they go on a safari.
According to unofficial records of Abu Dhabi’s tourism authority, Emiratis make up 1 per cent of hospitality workers. In 2014, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing estimated that Emiratis comprised just 3,160 of the hundreds of thousands of people working in the tourism sector.
Mr Dutt added, “There is a misconception that hospitality is about cleaning toilets, but it is a huge industry. There is also a misconception that Emiratis are not hardworking, so when they are employed they are not challenged enough. They get bored and leave because they are not pushed and given opportunities to grow.”
Patrick Antaki, general manager of the Al Maha resort in Dubai and Le Meridien hotel in Fujairah, and also a board member of the Fujairah Tourism and Antiquities Authority, confirmed that the said challenges were similar across the country. He said that he was already talking to the authority about getting locals to guide people around the museum and antiquities sites. Many tourists would like to hear stories about the lives of locals, families, and stories from their ancestors.
Mr Antaki said he would like to have Emiratis at Al Maha resort take guests into the desert, which would totally enhance a visitor’s experience. “People go to countries like Egypt and Turkey for that authentic experience, so why not do that here?”
Despite all efforts, social stigma remained the biggest hurdle, said Mr Antaki. Dubai is developing faster than Fujairah, which has been more traditional and taking time to change. According to Ahmed Al Blooshi, who is on the board of the Fujairah Tourism and Antiquities Authority, this needs to happen at school level with youth programmes to encourage locals into the industry, and said it was doing its best to hire more Emiratis.