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RIYADH: The tourism and hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia is experiencing a remarkable transformation driven by increased participation of women thanks to inspirational leaders and strong government action.

This shift is significant given that tourism is one of the few global industries where women already make up the majority of the workforce.

Saudi Arabia wants to get more women into the workforce, and the kingdom has already surpassed its Vision 2030 ambition of 30 percent female labor market participation.

Indeed, the target has now been raised to 40 percent – ​​double the rate recorded in 2010, according to World Bank data.

Tourism and hospitality is seen as a sector where women can thrive and the Kingdom is working hard to create more opportunities in this area.

According to EHL Insights, just five years ago, Saudi women faced significant barriers to working in the hospitality industry, and women had to go to great lengths to convince their families to allow them to study or work in the industry.

That has changed thanks to economic and cultural shifts spearheaded by the Vision 2030 initiative, and according to data released by R Consultancy Group in March, 45 percent of the sector’s workforce are now female professionals – 925,000 workers.

“There are some inspiring women leaders who have helped strategically shape the Saudi tourism sector and the regional tourism sector more broadly, such as Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, Deputy Minister of Tourism, and Basmah Al-Mayman, Regional Director of the United Nations World Tourism Organization ,” Anne-Laure Malauzat, a partner at Bain & Co., told Arab News. in the Middle East.

She further highlighted that in Saudi Arabia, there is a massive representation of women in various parts of the tourism and hospitality sector, from architects designing the kingdom’s key airports, passport control officers and taxi drivers, as well as hospitality. leaders and tourist guides.

“Examples of these success stories include Sarah Gasim, Senior Vice President – ​​Head of KSA Hotels and Hospitality at JLL – who previously managed hotel complexes. (She) is a published author and has lectured on the hospitality industry, helping shape future generations in the sector,” Malauzat said.

From Red Sea Global’s perspective, spokesperson Zainab Hamidaddin Al-Hanoof Al-Hazzani told Arab News that women bring unique perspectives, skills and knowledge to roles such as hospitality management, customer service, marketing and event planning, which significantly improves the overall quality services and customer satisfaction.

Tourism and hospitality is seen as a sector where women can thrive and the Kingdom is working hard to create more opportunities in this area. (SPA)

“Their diverse perspectives, better service delivery and inclusive contributions to the workplace drive innovation and economic growth, making them essential to its success,” she said.

Al-Hazzani asserted that women are actively shaping the future of the tourism and hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia, adding: “This is especially true at RSG, where women play a key role in enhancing the guest experience, promoting cultural diversity and contributing to the overarching success of our projects.

For example, our Elite Graduate Program has provided employment opportunities for 250 individuals, with 30 women advancing to management positions.”

Opportunities and challenges for women in the tourism and hospitality sector

The tourism and hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia is undergoing a significant transformation, with a growing focus on cultural tourism, luxury experiences and heritage preservation, which presents many opportunities for women.

Laila Kuznezov, director of the implementation practice at management consultancy Oliver Wyman, told Arab News that from leadership roles in hotel management to careers in event planning, cultural tourism experience and hospitality education, women can leverage their “unique skills and perspectives’ to shape the future of Saudi tourism.

“By empowering women in tourism and hospitality, they not only create a more inclusive workforce, but also send a strong message to the world. With a diverse pool of talent contributing to the industry, they can create a world-class visitor experience that reflects the kingdom’s rich heritage, cultural tapestry and forward-looking vision for the future,” added Kuznezov.

Speaking about the key constraints women face in entering the labor market and securing employment, Kuznezov explained how many of the obstacles in Saudi Arabia are similar to those they face globally.

By empowering women in tourism and hospitality, they not only create a more inclusive workforce, but also send a strong message to the world.

Laila Kuznezov, Director, Implementation Practice at Oliver Wyman

“The gender pay gap persists and women at certain levels of education, particularly those with only a high school diploma, have much lower participation rates than men. The huge opportunity lies in capitalizing on the highly skilled female workforce in Saudi Arabia,” she explained.

The director also noted that: “We need to see more women as CEOs, CFOs and senior managers in all industries, especially in the highly productive technology and knowledge-driven sectors. Supporting women’s entrepreneurship is also crucial. The talent and ambition is there – it’s about providing ongoing support and fostering a culture that actively supports and promotes women in transformational roles.”

She went on to explain that the recent increase in women’s labor force participation is a positive sign, but the next step is to ensure that these women secure high-quality jobs that make full use of their skills.

“It is also important to promote gains for women at all levels and geographies. A key focus in Saudi Arabia is ensuring access to the training and childcare opportunities needed to succeed, especially for women who are out of the labor force for a long time, have their first job or have a lower level of education,” Kuznezov said. highlighted.

“Since Saudi women tend to stay closer to their hometowns, geographically dispersed training programs and easily accessible childcare are key to expanding regional job opportunities,” the director added.

According to Kuznezov, Saudi Arabia is taking a progressive approach by developing and enabling regulations to support new forms of work, such as freelance work, part-time work, platform and gig work, and remote work.

“These models offer women increased flexibility and more channels to enter and participate in the labor market, which should contribute to the continuation of the positive trends of increased participation and reduction of female unemployment,” she said.

The Impact of Women’s Participation on Vision 2030

The participation of women in the tourism and hospitality sector has helped support the Vision 2030 agenda on several fronts, believes Malauzat of Bain & Co.

“From a talent perspective, they are enabling the transformation of the sector through their leadership, skills and contribution across all parts of the tourism and hospitality lifecycle,” she said.

FAST FACT

Saudi Arabia has a massive representation of women in various parts of the tourism and hospitality industry, from architects designing the kingdom’s key airports, passport control officers and taxi drivers, to hospitality managers and tour guides.

“In terms of consumer understanding, women make an estimated 80 percent of consumer decisions globally, so having female representation in this sector is critical to ensuring a true understanding of consumers in this space,” confirmed the partner.

She concluded: “In terms of gender equality, this has been an important factor in helping the Kingdom achieve its overall ambitions for women’s participation in the national labor market.

From RSG’s lens, according to Al-Hazzani, by actively promoting gender diversity in the workforce in the tourism and hospitality sector, the company is taking significant steps towards realizing the vision outlined in Vision 2030.

“This initiative is in line with the broader goal of cultivating a vibrant and inclusive economy that utilizes the full spectrum of talent and capabilities within the country,” Al-Hazzani said.

“Recognized as a fundamental driver of economic diversification, the tourism and hospitality industry benefits immensely from the integration of female talent. Their presence not only supports the growth of the sector, but also increases its competitive advantage and long-term viability by providing enriched tourism experiences and driving innovation,” she added.

The spokesperson reasoned that by prioritizing the gender diversity of the tourism and hospitality workforce, RSG is not only embracing the ideals of Vision 2030, but also paving the way for other sectors to do the same.

“Our commitment to inclusiveness not only strengthens our economy, but also affirms our shared commitment to creating a more prosperous and just society,” Al-Hazzani concluded.

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