As a Riyadh-based hotelier struggling to achieve my “Saudization” quota requirement, which stipulates that our 200-strong workforce must comprise at least 35% Saudi nationals, I was surprised to read in the local and international press recently the stunning announcement that the largest hotel in the world is being constructed in Mecca, because its HR manager will need to start locating, recruiting and training at least 1,000 Saudis very soon if it is to meet its 35% Saudization quota, based upon an estimated total staff headcount of 3,000.
The hotel (estimated build cost US$5 billion) — offering 10,000 rooms and suites, helicopter pads, dozens of themed restaurants, a shopping mall, a food court and a massive conference center — is designed to resemble an Arabian desert fortress and will be part of a mixed-use development that encompasses a ring of towers standing on top of a podium.
Due to be completed in 2017, this behemoth is not the only new hotel planned for Mecca, a city that already provides pilgrims with more than 40,000 hotel rooms. The latest hotel-industry forecasts plan to accommodate 5 million Haj pilgrims and 30 million Umrah pilgrims within the next five years, a number that could swell to 50 million within 10 years if there are enough flights into the country and enough hotel rooms.
These astronomical numbers are certainly exciting all the major international hotel brands, as I discovered recently at the Arabian Travel Market, with several companies planning massive expansion here in the Kingdom. However, finding adequate numbers of qualified Saudi hotel staff to fill their quotas seems to be one of the major impediments to more rapid development of the Kingdom’s hospitality industry.
This is the result of an extreme shortage of trained and qualified Saudi rank-and-file hospitality personnel and suitably qualified Saudi hotel managers. This “Saudization situation” continues to be exacerbated with each new hotel feeding off existing hotels’ fully trained Saudi workforces by offering better pay and benefits. But to be fair, there’s nothing new about that — it happens all over the world in this highly competitive business, and it is just something we all have to live with and manage as best we can.
As a footnote, it’s worth mentioning that the world’s largest hotels up until now have been in Las Vegas. They are The Venetian and The Palazzo, which operate as a single hotel with 7,117 rooms and suites, and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which is very close behind in terms of the number of room keys, with 6,852 rooms and suites available.
It’s also worth mentioning that this region now has the world’s tallest hotel, the magnificent Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and here in Saudi Arabia we will soon have the largest hotel in the world. So what’s next for local developers? Perhaps the world’s first air-conditioned golf course or beach, or the world’s first underwater 5-star hotel. Why not? We already have a hotel in Dubai with its own indoor real powder snow ski slope.