The tourism sector provides employment for Bahraini nationals across the kingdom in a number of roles, from management at hotels to taxi providers. As such the industry is seen as increasingly important in the government’s plan to expand the input and role of the national population in the local economy.
According to statistics from the World Travel & Tourism Council, tourism directly supported 4.1% of total employment in 2013, and the government is working to boost that figure through a number of training schemes, among other initiatives. If indirect employees are included, the sector supports as much as 10% of the population, according to the local media. In total 20,387 people were employed in the sector in 2013, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Culture (MoC). This total marks a 9% increase year-onyear from 2012. The Bahrainisation rate for the sector stood at 18%, or 3658 individuals, for that year. The overall level of Bahrainisation is highest in the airline sector (46%), travel agencies (31%), concert organising offices (24%) and land transport provision (20%). Rates are lower among the staff of five-star hotels (18%) and budget accommodation (15%).
Employment in the tourism sector continues to grow. According to a poll conducted in 2014 by GulfTalent, a recruitment consultancy group headquartered in Dubai, 30% of businesses in Bahrain hope to hire in 2014 versus just 9% in the 2013 edition of the same poll. The same study found that the hospitality and retail sector is likely to provide the largest share of job growth in the GCC in 2014, with 61% of the companies surveyed in that sector planning to hire during the year.
Boosting the number of Bahrain nationals employed in the sector is a key goal for the MoC. “The tourism sector is one the fastest-growing sectors in Bahrain,” Sheikh Khaled bin Humood Al Khalifa, assistant undersecretary for tourism, told OBG. “While GDP growth has increased by roughly 4.5% over the past two years, the tourism sector has grown at 13.5% per year. The tourism levy collected by the sector increased by BD1.25m ($3.31m) from BD8.48m ($22.47m) in 2012 to BD9.74m ($25.81m) in 2013,” he added. “Part of our tourism development strategy is to make sure that growth means more employment for Bahrainis.” Each hotel in Bahrain pays BD10 ($26.50) a month per employee to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority, which is used to boost Bahraini employment.
Sheikh Khaled told OBG that collaboration between the government, Bahrain Polytechnic University (BPU) and the private sector will centre on a new private-sector-sponsored tourism studies programme with the overall goal of increasing Bahrainis employment and service quality in the industry. “This remains an important goal for the development of the sector,” he said. To that end, the MoC reached an agreement in 2014 to provide a minimum of 10 scholarships each year to Bahraini citizens interested in studying hospitality management skills as part of this programme. This effort will be sponsored by a consortium of 16 different hotels in Bahrain. Students will study at BPU in affiliation with the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland, with expectations that 60 Bahraini students will graduate with technical management skills over the next 10 years. Other educational opportunities exist as well, including at the Bahrain Institute of Hospitality and Retail, a private college founded in 1999 and located in Manama. The institution has sister colleges in Saudi Arabia and partner schools in India, Oman and Pakistan, respectively.
The private sector has also launched its own initiatives to help meet this challenge. In early 2014 Kempinski established a new programme to develop Bahraini talent. In conjunction with Third Wave International, a Bahrain-based affiliate of William Angliss, a leading Australian hospitality institute, 17 recruits will spend four months training on the job with Kempinski. One selling point for Bahrain is that tourists can interact with locals to a greater extent than in other GCC members, and increasing Bahrainisation in the tourism sector will help the country to maintain this experience for visitors.
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