Thursday 25 April 2024

FHS Saudi Arabia to spotlight women hospitality leaders

RIYADH, February 27, 2024

Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) Saudi Arabia, taking place in Riyadh from 29 April to 1 May, has a strong female focus this year, reflecting the rise of women in the kingdom’s hospitality and tourism industries.

As part of its commitment to recognise the important role of women in the sector, FHS Saudi Arabia organiser, The Bench, has launched #FHSWomenPower, a new campaign for this year’s event. Under the initiative, The Bench is offering female Saudi nationals who hold leading positions in the country’s hospitality sector to attend FHS free of charge.

As part of a series of events ahead of the summit, organisers reveal insights of a new generation of women leaders in the hospitality industry.


Q) What is your organisation doing to champion gender diversity and women empowerment in the hospitality industry in line with Saudi Vision 2030 and the region’s social and economic aspirations?

Marie-Louise Ek, Vice President Human Resources Middle East and Africa, Hilton: At Hilton we are in a business of people serving people. Gender diversity is a key objective for us and we’ve taken significant steps toward recruiting and upskilling more Team Members.

Recently, we trained over 15 internal facilitators to run our ‘Women in Leadership’ programme across the Kingdom to help train and nurture the next generation of female leaders and hotel general managers.

The impact is evident in the fact that 20% of our Team Members in KSA are now women working in roles ranging from frontline to hotel managers, and we have tripled the number of women heading departments since 2021 across the kingdom.

Eng. Orobah Filfilan, Architect, Saudi Icon: Saudi Icon gives equal opportunities to all its employees and embraces a positive team culture. I was hired as an architect, but upon viewing my skill set and potential, the company provided me with the choice to expand my field of responsibilities, roles, and tasks.

Aseel Bondagjy, Hotel Talent Development Manager, NEOM: Our initiatives are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030 and include targeted programmes such as culinary arts and leadership training, which aim to empower Saudi women with necessary skills.

Marloes Knippenberg, Chief Executive Officer, Kerten Hospitality: Gender diversity in recruitment, implementing mentorship programs, and cultivating an inclusive work environment forms an integral part of our UBBU (United Building a Better Universe) agenda. Nakhati, the first female-led, purpose-driven brand, is one of the many ways we exemplify our commitment to empowering women and fostering community engagement.

Shaikha Al Nowais, Corporate Vice President of Owner Relationship Management, Rotana: We introduced our flagship Tarot (The Accelerated Refinement of Talent) programme, which offers our employees a fast-track development path to be trained for 12 months with progressive growth opportunities.

Norah Al Tamimi, Chief Executive Officer, Baheej Company: At Baheej, we believe in giving everyone – regardless of gender – a fair shot at success. While we are newly established, being the CEO of the company shows our commitment to gender equality and the progressive values of our shareholders.

Q) In your opinion, what qualities and skills do women bring to the sector? 

Marloes Knippenberg: Women’s diverse skill set and perspectives enrich the industry, driving innovation and enhancing guest experiences.

Eng. Orobah Filfilan: I believe that women possess the acumen and capability of viewing all sorts of issues and concerns with fresh lenses and from various perspectives.

Norah Al Tamimi: Women’s communication skills facilitate effective collaboration and understanding within teams.

Shaikha Al Nowais: Companies with women on boards may be better positioned to adapt to changing market dynamics, and develop products and services that resonate with a broader audience.

Aseel Bondagjy: Historically, we have managed family-run guesthouses, catering services, and small-scale food businesses, serving women and families. Women have also always played a crucial role in welcoming and hosting pilgrims during Hajj and Umrah.

Q) How do you tackle challenges associated with working women, such as motherhood and cultural dynamics? For example, do you offer flexible working hours?

Marloes Knippenberg: We foster a supportive and inclusive work environment where employees are encouraged to openly communicate their needs.

Norah Al Tamimi: At Baheej, we recognise the importance of supporting working women in overcoming challenges such as cultural dynamics and family responsibilities. That's why we offer flexible working hours, maternity leave, and perks like lactation rooms and childcare assistance.

Shaikha Al Nowais: At Rotana, we are proud to offer a comprehensive range of benefits to support working parents, including flexible working arrangements, 10 weeks maternity leave, and more.

Eng Orobah Filfilan: Saudi Icon provides employees the option to discuss the most suitable workflow that not only maintains ideal output, but also a healthy work-life balance.

Q) What percentage of your current workforce is female and how does this compare to this time last year, and five years ago?

Marloes Knippenberg: Diversity is a cornerstone of our workforce, with women comprising 57% of our team, reflecting our commitment to inclusivity.

Shaikha Al Nowais: We are proud that, out of Rotana’s total Saudi workforce, 31% are female. Currently, women represent 20.5% of the total workforce for the group. Rotana has made deliberate efforts to enhance its gender diversity through targeted recruitment, retention strategies.

Eng. Orobah Filfilan: Since the establishment of Vision 2030, there has been an evident increase in the percentage of female employees in the workflow in the last decade.

Q) The Riyadh School for Tourism and Hospitality will open in 2027 as part of KSA’s vision to diversity its economy and boost the tourism sector.  How will this – and other educational initiatives – further encourage females to choose a career in hospitality?

Norah Al Tamimi: The Saudisation of the sector and government assistance in challenging preconceptions and developing talent, the industry is paving the way for a new generation of female hospitality leaders.

Marie Louise EK: Our partnership with Bunyan for Training, a Saudi affiliate of the renowned Swiss Hospitality Management School Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne has resulted in internships and job placements for 32 young Saudi nationals with more than half of the students being young women graduating later this year.

Shaikha Al Nowais: These initiatives will provide specialised training and education tailored to the industry's needs, empowering women with the necessary skills and knowledge.

Marloes Knippenberg: Initiatives like the Riyadh School for Tourism and Hospitality empower women to pursue careers in hospitality by providing specialised education, breaking gender stereotypes, and fostering an inclusive environment.

Aseel Bondagjy: Programmes like NEOM Hotel Division in collaboration with partners like ZADK Academy, create a pathway for Saudi youth, including women, to become the changemakers and cultural ambassadors of our industry.

Eng. Orobah Filfilan: Knowing that there will be a high demand for Saudi employees in the tourism and hospitality sector—among other related industries—will encourage women to seize the opportunities and advance in that sector.

Q) Over 60% of the KSA population is under 30 years old. How can the hospitality industry seize the opportunity to turn the country’s young female population of today into the hospitality and tourism leaders of tomorrow?

Norah Al Tamimi: The kingdom’s hospitality sector has hit 21.7% Saudisation, and 11.3% of them are female workers. By recognising hospitality as an emerging field for both talented young men and women, and leveraging the ongoing hospitality projects in Saudi Arabia, we can create pathways for female leadership.

With notable female figures making significant strides in the industry, like Eman Fallatah, Culinary Director at Kerten Hospitality, Mayada Badr, CEO of the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission, and Maram Kokandi, General Manager of Radisson Jeddah Madinah Road, it's evident that women play an indispensable role in shaping the future of hospitality.

Maryam AlQahtani: By providing education, mentorship, and career development opportunities, we aim to empower them to become cultural ambassadors and leaders to define the future of the hospitality sector.

Marloes Knippenberg: Targeted education, mentorship, and creating inclusive workplaces are vital. By removing barriers and providing opportunities, we empower young women to excel in hospitality and tourism leadership roles.

Shaikha Al Nowais: Through the unique ‘Duroob’ programme, Rotana makes it a point to tap into the vast native talent pool across host countries. By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, the hospitality industry can unlock the talent and innovation of young Saudi women and shape them into future leaders for the country and the industry.

Q) From your perspective, how can events like FHS help drive diversity and women empowerment in the industry?

Eng. Orobah Filfilan: Events such as the Future Hospitality Summit will expose women to experiences that might not have been as well-known and allow them to network and become acquainted with the multifaceted aspects of the industry.

Marie Louise EK: Industry events such as the Future Hospitality Summit help provide a platform for female leaders in the industry to share their expertise and engage and connect with industry peers.

Marloes Knippenberg: By showcasing women’s expertise and fostering collaboration, these events empower women to excel and drive diversity and empowerment in the industry.

Norah Al Tamimi: With female speakers and subjects relevant to aspiring female executives, FHS is playing an important role in defining the narrative and developing diversity in the business.

Maryam AlQahtani: Events like FHS provide a platform for women in hospitality to step onto a global stage and share their experiences and ambitions.

Shaikha Al Nowais: Big industry events such as the Future Hospitality Summit offer the ideal platform for female employees to connect with experienced professionals and aspiring women in the field. – TradeArabia News Service



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