This year’s conference theme for the Future Hospitality Summit Saudi Arabia (FHS) is ‘Invest in Change’, highlighting the importance of the positive change that can be brought forward through the investment in time, intellect and expertise in the hospitality industry to keep up with changing times and trends to better shape the future of the industry. In the lead up to the event we asked a number of industry partners how they are investing in change.

The exciting developments across Saudi Arabia’s tourism and hospitality industry are manifesting themselves in a myriad of ways.

While the most obvious examples can be seen in the skylines of the Kingdom’s cities and tourist destinations with the construction of new attractions and hotels, the stage is set for a profound change in the socio-economic culture and career aspirations amongst young Saudi men and women who will bring these destinations to life.

As the sector grows, the Saudi job market is providing more and more opportunities for Saudi citizens to build a rewarding career in the industry, built around personal progression, new experiences and opportunities for professional growth.

Whether we have fresh graduates, experienced professionals or individuals looking for a new challenge, hospitality industry has a lot to offer and is ready to welcome Saudi professionals. Unfortunately, the industry is still working hard to attract the talent it needs for a sustainable future, due to age old misconceptions of what it means to work in hospitality, both socially and professionally.

The most common social misconception is that hospitality lacks the prestige of fields such as petrochemicals or investment banking which have long been embedded into Saudi Arabia’s economic history. However, it is important for Saudi talent to understand that domestic and international guests celebrate Saudi’s unique culture, cuisine and landscapes during their stay and our hotel colleagues are pivotal to this experience.

A professional misconception is that hospitality jobs are limited to roles in front office, housekeeping and stewarding with little or no progression to senior management. These roles are highly revered in our industry as colleagues in such service-related divisions ensure a positive, hygienic, and safe stay for our guests. We also have hundreds of examples, specifically in the Middle East, of colleagues who began in similar service roles and are currently leading hotel operations as General Managers. Most importantly, hotels require a breadth of talent to run efficiently - roles vary from hotel management to IT and engineering, from sales and marketing to government relations. Each of these roles have scope to progress. As an example, an engineer for a single hotel can be promoted to a cluster, area, market or a corporate role.

As developments related to Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision plan progresses at pace, the tourism sector will continue to grow as a strategic lever to economic growth. In turn, tourism will continue to gain momentum as a dynamic career choice - a shift spurred by the boom in government led, mega developments in AlUla, the Red Sea and NEOM and the subsequent development of hotels in their master plans. Research by the Red Sea Development Company found that 91% of young Saudis are interested in a career in tourism, with two thirds expecting it to be a key area of employment. [1] We hope that this interest will ultimately lead to more talent trickling into the private hospitality sector as well, especially in hotels that are being built within these mega developments.

While government led tourism entities offer great employment opportunities and work experience, the private hospitality sector brings forth competitive offers as well. At IHG, this relates to international level exposure, global learning tools and resources from internationally acclaimed programs such as Harvard management mentor, global mobility (the opportunity to work in hotels outside Saudi Arabia) employee rates at hotels and loyalty program benefits.

Given the company’s long-standing history in the country, we have invested in IHG Academy programs across key cities. This is an industry-focused programme offered in partnership with universities and provides world-class training to aspiring individuals, while the Riyadh-based National Training Centre for Facilities and Hospitality Management with the aim to create highly skilled graduates- ready to join the hospitality workforce.

Alumni from institutions such as these are, and will continue to be, in high demand as hotel brands expand beyond Riyadh, Jeddah and Mecca to diverse and exciting locations nationwide.

Hospitality is filled with the potential to become a major driver for national Saudisation efforts, offering citizens the chance to have their talents nurtured, expanded and developed through a clear trajectory and career path that is supported by a focus on training and progression unavailable in other industries.

Most important point to note is that Saudi talent must capitalize on their unique cultural background and deep knowledge of their immediate communities and the experiences they provide in showcasing unique facets of the country including natural landscapes, cuisine, and local traditions.

Local colleagues who have grown up immersed in Saudi’s deep-rooted customs have the knowledge, passion and motivation needed to be quintessential hosts; they are ideally suited to meet the demands of modern travellers who seek exceptional experiences in memorable places. Such talent is highly sought-after by employers eager to boost interaction with, and access to, communities while helping to attract guests thanks to an eye-catching level of authenticity.

Saudis who enter hospitality are naturally equipped with a mindset that understands the importance of making visitors feel welcomed, at ease and respected. This offers a strong foundation to build upon which, if supported by factors such as a competitive salary, job security and avenues for growth, can attract an exceptional Saudi workforce and deliver long-term growth for hospitality as an important part of the Kingdom’s economy.

[1] Breaking New Ground (

Haitham Mattar will be speaking at the Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) Saudi Arabia in the session titled: "How Brands are Supporting Development of the Saudi Hospitality Market and Catering to the Domestic Market" on Tuesday 9 May. View the full programme here.