JEDDAH — Saudi people are nowadays more interested in working in the tourism industry prompted by the government’s Vision 2030 initiative, observed Gauvin Pascal, Managing Director at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) at the Saudi Hotel Investment Conference (SHIC).
In an interview, he said “we see Vision 2030 as an opportunity, because we have a direction, there is a blueprint that has been established, it is supported by the highest levels of government and is part of the country’s transformation, so to us it is a great opportunity. One of the biggest pillars of the plan, is to bring more tourism into the country, so it’s a beautiful opportunity for the industry we’re in. That’s the first point.”
He further said “secondly, because of the vision coming straight from the top, the Saudi people are more interested in working within the tourism industry, whereas previously they may have been more interested in pursuing banking or business and so on, but now we are seeing more demand and more attraction to our industry because of the long-term vision in developing tourism, which is really important for us. A challenge we could face is that we have to ensure that the vision really gains momentum, in that things are getting built and moving forward. We also have to have greater freedom with visas, and also the tourist visa that we have been hearing about, we need a greater understanding about what that is going to look like.”
Excerpts from the interview follow:
“The Umrah visa is also very important for Makkah and Madinah, and we need to have that in larger numbers, as we have a large inventory in Mecca and Medina, and we need to fill up our rooms. Not only during Haj and Ramadan, but throughout the year, so we need some help in securing more visas. And again, in terms of Saudization, we want to ensure we remain attractive for the Saudi people to come to our hotel and remove some cultural barriers. Which means that education of the young and Saudis in school will be very important in the future. In terms of ensuring that they have open minds towards the idea of serving someone, that it is a positive thing to do, that it doesn’t bring you down but raises you up, because to be in the hotel industry, you are in the service industry, so you need to love what you do,”
• I’ve heard that you are launching a partnership with a Saudi entity, or inaugurating a hotel. Could you shed some light on this?
— Yes, today we have announced a partnership of the Crowne Plaza Riyadh, a new hotel that will be branded in June. It is an existing hotel belonging to DUR Hospitality who are the sponsors of this conference. They are a great partner for us and this will be our fourth hotel with them. It is a franchise contract, meaning they will operate the hotel under the Crowne Plaza brand. We just signed the agreement today, so it is new news.
• What is IHG’s contribution towards Vision 2030. As part of the private sectors contribution to the vision, and its relation to the National Transformation Program, NTP 2020.
• First of all, it’s a blessing to be in Saudi Arabia, It’s very important for us to be here today when discussing Vision 2030, in order for us to learn more about the details of what the plan looks like and how we can maximize our contribution towards the vision.
We entered Saudi Arabia in 1975, with the InterContinental in Riyadh, and when you look at where we are today, we have had a long history with both the city and country and want to continue moving forward. Vision 2030, will help us in accelerating the growth of our hotels, but how do we contribute?
As an operator, what we bring is our brands, our know-how, our systems, and our training and development of our people. Also, because of our network, our loyalty program and the guests we know, we can reach out to the rest of the world, marketing the destination of a country or a city. For example, when people around the world are looking for a place to stay in Riyadh, all they have to do is go online and search “Riyadh Hotels”, they will then see the InterContinental, or Holiday Inn or Staybridge Suites coming up, giving them a vast choice of accommodation and brands that they know and are accustomed to staying in around the world. Bringing guests to the country is only a part of our contribution. The other part is training Saudi nationals within the industry, which is very important to us, as it ensures guests coming to the city feel safe, enjoy local hospitality and speak highly of the destination when returning to their home countries with great memories. So while we may not be investing, we are bringing our brand and developing it in the country.
Of course, we do work with investors and owners, and what we bring to them is a guaranteed return on investment. When investors or owners build their own hotel, with their own brand, it is harder for them to reach out on a global scale, as well as the know-how that we have built over the years in operating profitable hotels.
• What about the the training aspect of your contribution?
We consider it to be our duty, as an international group, to develop local Saudi talent. It is critical to development. We have 31 hotels in the Kingdom and 50% are led by Saudi General Managers, and some are even Area Managers, meaning they manage as many as five of our hotels. So they are doing very well and we have a pipeline of talent that in the next few months or years will be ready to become general managers. Our mission is to ensure that, beyond the Saudi government quota, we focus on attracting more and more Saudis into leadership positions. It is a win/win situation, the Saudi employee wins, the community wins and the guests checking into the hotel win. Guests want to be able to talk to locals, someone who understands local culture and can make the best recommendations, so it’s important from all sides.
As an international traveler, I want to know the people who live in the country, I want to talk to them. It is only logical. If I go to a place and I talk to a foreigner, it’s not as authentic and guests today are really looking for authenticity. So for us, it is really important to have Saudis in our hotels, and it is our duty to train, develop, select and teach them and honestly, so far we are doing very well. We are also seeing opportunities for more women to come into the industry, which is new and exciting, and we are working to ensure that we have the ability to share our knowledge with them too.
• What is IHG doing in terms of women empowerment?
It is only the beginning, but we want to continue providing support, but at the same time we must adapt and respect local rules, in regards to culture and family, so we are cautious but optimistic and welcoming of more women coming into the industry. Women bring another dimension to our hotels, the way they look at the business is slightly different, which is great and the complementarity helps in delivering fantastic branded performances in both the luxury arena, with InterContinental, but the mid-scale market as well. For youth development we are looking for aspiring young leaders who want to experience all aspects of the industry, from interacting with guests to being in the front office, something we do across the world. In the past we have been more restricted here, but as Saudi is opening up we want to capture the opportunity for faster growth for Saudis in the workforce.