Elevating Saudi Arabia's Tourism Customer Experience: How the public sector can support the Kingdom's ambitious goals
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands on the precipice of a historic transformation as it sets its sights on becoming a global tourism destination.
With a bold goal of attracting 100 million visitors annually by 2030, Saudi Arabia's tourism ambitions are nothing short of ground-breaking and they have good reason to believe these numbers are possible. Mahmoud Abdulhadi, the Deputy Minister of Investment Attraction at the Ministry of Tourism has predicted that about 28 million tourists are expected to visit the Kingdom this year alone.
Mahmoud Abdulhadi, the Deputy Minister of Investment Attraction at the Ministry of Tourism has predicted that about 28 million tourists are expected to visit the Kingdom this year alone.
As the nation pushes to share its rich history and captivating attractions to the world, it faces the immense challenge of preparing its workforce for exceptional customer service roles that will define the visitor experience.
In this dynamic journey towards tourism prominence, the importance of providing exceptional customer service cannot be overstated; it will be the linchpin that transforms ordinary visits into extraordinary, unforgettable memories for every visitor.
Central to Saudi Arabia's tourism ambitions is the herculean task of filling a million tourism-related jobs over the next decade. These job opportunities span across an array of destinations, from the pioneering Qiddiya mega-project in Riyadh that redefines entertainment, to emerging attractions like the Red Sea and AlUla and the multitude of hotels currently under construction—totalling more than 40,000 rooms.
So how does Saudi Arabia bridge the skills gap? How do they make ambition reality and provide an unforgettable experience?
Comprehensive Training Programmes – public and private collaboration
To ensure Saudi nationals excel in customer service, detailed training programmes must be and are being implemented. Collaborative initiatives involving the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Aramco are working to address these training requirements. Their efforts focus on the creation of comprehensive training programmes that provide Saudi Nationals with skills required for the workforce – including for example, linguistic proficiency and personalised service. The practical application of this training in tandem with the knowledge, experience and expertise of the private sector will effectively translate training theory into operational reality and continuous career development.
Private sector organisations are drawing upon successful training delivered in other markets and adapting them to the Saudi environment and its unique demands. This is especially important for areas where training services are not readily available in KSA. Providing nationals with a mix of in-country and international on-the-job training options means individuals will be exposed to wider opportunities than currently available to learn from in Saudi – such as the UK and US’s already well-established leisure industry.
Job rotation is also something that organisations can offer employees. This will help them gain a well-rounded understanding of the industry, widening skill sets quicker and helping those new to the workforce to discover where their passions lie.
Understanding the customer
To train customer service representatives, it’s important to truly understand the customer first. Organisations such as Serco’s ExperienceLab are supporting this through the development of customer personas and designing training that caters to providing the best possible experience to these multiple different types of people rather than general ‘one fits all’ teaching.
New hires will receive this bespoke level of training incorporating case management competencies, conflict resolution and addressing cultural and language differences to cater to a diverse global customer base.
This new job sector has created excitement amongst Saudi youth, which is imperative for the success in this industry. This excitement should be harnessed through campaigns that resonate with both the youth and their parents, considering cultural factors that influence career choices.
The transition from traditional roles to those in the emerging tourism sector requires a careful balance between aligning aspirations and navigating societal norms.
Public and private sector must combine forces to inspire younger Saudis into a future career in hospitality. Campaigns targeting school leavers and graduates would help fill the many roles needed with young people, enthusiastic to enter a new sector.
Whilst colleges and Universities also have a role to play in ensuring the industry is positioned as a good career option for those with the right mindset and supporting with relevant resources.
Establishing a clear mentoring programme is also crucial for transferring knowledge and expertise from experienced employees to newcomers. Training through mentoring will help employees gain the specific skills and cultural insights required to excel in customer-facing roles. International companies like Serco can relocate employees with experience and best practice from other countries to transfer their knowledge to mentees.
Staff Retention Strategies
When employees are in place and have undergone training, workforce management and staff retention are critical challenges.
Empowerment lies at the core of customer service. Organisations should empower their frontline staff with decision-making authority, cultivating an environment conducive to innovative problem-solving.
Equipping staff with resilience training helps them to navigate challenges with poise, maintain a positive demeanour and ensure harmonious interactions with guests.
Public and private sector must continue to work together to develop innovative strategies for retaining talent, such as career advancement opportunities and competitive benefits that aren’t only financial.
Understanding what really matters to the workforce of the future and consider wellbeing, sense of purpose, work life balance and so forth, will have a really positive impact on retention. Developing personas for employees can help in this regard too.
In conclusion, filling a million tourism-related jobs over the next decade is a huge challenge. But who best to take on the challenge than Saudi Arabia?
The country’s vision for tourism excellence represents a significant opportunity for both public and private sectors to collaborate and transform the Kingdom into a global tourism leader.
By focusing on inspiring the next generation, comprehensive training and knowledge transfer from international experience and truly understanding both the customer and the workforce’s needs, Saudi Arabia can ensure that its ambitious goals are not only met but exceeded, redefining the trajectory of global tourism for generations to come.