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Qatar’s tourism industry is experiencing quick growth with visitor arrivals nearly doubling from 1.4 million visitors in 2008 to 2.6 million visitors in 2013. The growth is being driven by Qatar Airways’ expanding network, the constant appearance of new attractions, and the country’s first real marketing push.
Read our interview with the Chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority here.
As often happens in quickly growing tourism economies, many of the men and women that visitors meet throughout their trip are not natives of the country they are working in.
According to the Qatar Tourism Authority, a very small number of Qataris currently work in the hotel trade. Expatriate Arabs and Europeans hold many management positions while Asians, primarily from the subcontinent and Philippines, hold service-level positions.
The latest employment statistics available are from 2012, during which there were 31,777 people recorded as working in the tourism sector.
Although not Qatari themselves, these foreign front-line and managerial employees have stories about why they came to Doha and how the growth of the city has helped further their own goals.
On a recent trip to Doha, Skift was interested in learning more about Doha as a hub for tourism growth and what foreign tourism workers thought of their experience thus far. Below are the accounts of four employees.
Grace Murray, Art Museum Educator at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art
Grace Murray is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, and studied art history at Kenyon College in Ohio, the Courtauld Institute in London, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She stumbled into a career in museum education by accident when a college internship in New York placed her in that department. She decided it was the right fit after seeing how she could work with people and help them connect with art.
Murray arrived in Qatar in 2012 after hearing the country’s growth offered opportunities that the United States’ still stagnant arts and museum environment did not.
“The nonprofit arts and museum environment in the U.S. was still in a downturn at that point and it seemed like there weren’t many opportunities for me to advance my career. I decided to try something new. I heard about the growth of museums in Qatar from a close friend of mine in Chicago and thought it would be exciting to help build a new institution from scratch,” explains Murray.
Murray says the best part of her job has been mentoring young high school and university students about contemporary art. However, the same rapid growth that brought Murray to Qatar has also posed challenges.
“The most challenging part is that so much is developing all at once and people are often quite transitory. Building and sustaining momentum for a project or institution can be challenging,” she says.
After three “very interesting” years in Qatar, Murray is planning to move to Istanbul next month with hopes of continuing to work in a museum or art education.
Hari Pokharel, Tour Guide at Gulf Adventures Tourism
Hari Pokharel is originally from Nepal where he worked as a tour and trekking guide before coming to Qatar in search of more consistent work. He explains how the seasons in Nepal led to an off-season with very little work. In Qatar, where Pokharel has lived for the past five years, there are still high and low seasons but they don’t impact him as much as he now has a consistent year-round salary.
Pokharel’s company Gulf Adventures Tourism went to Nepal to hire tour guides and helped him through the visa process. He speaks English and German, which helps because such companies look for guides who can speak more than one language. He had to interview in both languages.
When he arrived, there were no tour guide licenses or training programs like those that he had done in Nepal. In addition to a course given by the company, Pokharel had to learn about the destination himself.
“My opinion is in order to be a good tour guide, we have to do self-study. We have to be very updated and there are a lot of sources of information. For example, I read the newspaper, listen to the news, read the Internet.”
Qatar introduced a new law in August 2012 that covered the licensing and regulation of the tourist guide profession. Pokharel is one of 10 permanent tour guides hired by his company, which also uses freelance guides during the busy season. All of his co-workers are also from Nepal.
“In my profession, there is no other place to go up. I can not be a tour operator here or invest in a tour agency. I’ll be just a tour guide,” he explains.
“Being here we earn some money, but for the future we think we have to do something in our own country. The policy here is just to work, not to be a citizen. That means we work here, earn some money, and go home. That’s what most workers do.”
Pokharel is single but his parents and relatives still in Nepal where he plans to return in no more than three years. He says his time in Qatar – five years – is longer than most foreign workers who come for one to three years before leaving.
Pokharel is enthusiastic when talking about the best parts of his job, which he describes as meeting people from around the world and sharing information on everyone’s home country. He enjoys when participants are curious and ask a lot of questions. The worst part is the logistics of a tour and when Qatar’s heavy traffic or another element impact the schedule.
Gonca Gorgulu, Marketing Executive at W Doha Hotel & Residences
Gonca Gorgulu is originally from Turkey but lived in Germany for ten years before attending university at the Hotelschool The Hague where she received a BBA in Hospitality Management. Her family was in the hospitality business for more than 25 years and she says she knew she wanted to join since she was 12 years old.
Gorgulu developed a hotel’s social media strategy during her university internship and felt that she could excel in such a social media role as it was already a personal interest. “An addiction is probably the best way to put it,” she adds.
She found an opening at the W Doha Hotel & Residences and knew it was a very reputable hotel in the region and among the best W Hotels worldwide.
“I knew Qatar to have won the 2022 Worldcup bid and that it was a very fast growing country in the Middle East, so I applied for the position and got it,” explains Gorgulu.
“Doha is growing at an incredible pace and has a small community with very resourceful people in all sectors, ranging from health to technology to education. It’s great to be a part of this community and get to know these people on a daily basis.”
Upon completion of her first year as social media manager, Gorgulu was offered a new position in the marketing department. Although the Middle East is “very close to her heart,” she would also like to explore Asia at some point in her career.
The best and most challenging parts of her job?
“Every day is different and I get to meet new people on a daily basis. The W Doha is a very ‘happening’ hotel so we have new promotions going on all the time. There is a lot of communication and coordination between departments.”
Anand Sreekumar, Airport Greeter and Front Desk Agent at Oryx Rotana
Anand Sreekumar is originally from Kerala, India and came to Qatar two and a half years ago to work as an airport greeter for Doha’s primary airport hotel.
He initially wanted to work directly for an airline and completed IATA’s Airport Strategic Management course. Sreekumar was rejected from several airline positions in India where he says competition is high. He worked in India at a hotel for ten months, but came to Doha with hopes of one day working with Qatar Airways. Once he arrived, he learned there are certain difficulties in switching jobs. After completing his three year contract, he will try again to work for Qatar Airways.
“I am waiting for changes to the sponsorship laws, but I am happy here because of the way management treats me,” he says.
Sreekumar was hired as an airport greeter but was recently transitioned to the front desk where the hotel was in need of staff. He says the best part of his job is getting to meet new people and practice his English. He is also working to pick up some basic Arabic as many guests coming in speak Arabic as a first language.
“It’s our job to make guests happy and somehow, to some extent, I believe that I am making them happy,” says Sreekumar.
He is not alone as a foreigner working at the hotel. He says he has only one colleague from a Gulf Coast country, Bahrain, and the rest are from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Egypt. Should Sreekumar consider working in another city, he would move to Dubai where he’s heard there are more opportunities for hospitality career growth and many of his friends are located.
For now, he is focused on working hard with the hopes of becoming a member of the cabin crew or ground operations team at Qatar Airways or another international airline.
“I am knocking on the doors. If they open, for sure I will go.”