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Red Sea Global bucks trend as Saudis take on hospitality roles

InterContinental The Red Sea Red Sea Global
The Red Sea resort is home to hotel brands such as InterContinental
  • Red Sea Global is set to offer 50 resorts by 2030
  • Of the current 2,700 employees, 45 percent are Saudi nationals
  • GCC countries are trying to stem dependence on immigrant labour

Saudi nationals are flocking to the kingdom’s Red Sea Global mega-project to take up jobs in the multi-billion dollar development.

One of the areas in the project, simply named The Red Sea, is on track to welcome its first guests in 2023 when the initial hotels open. Upon full completion in 2030, the project will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

The destination will include an international airport, luxury marinas, and entertainment and leisure facilities.

Dr Maryam Ficociello, chief governance officer at Red Sea Global, said 45 percent of the 2,700 employees currently working at the project are Saudis, and added that 50 percent of the company’s C-suite executives all hail from the kingdom.

She said: “We are seeing many more applications come through than the jobs we actually have. We’re getting something like 50-fold applications for every job we have, for every training opportunity we have.”

Traditionally, Gulf nationals have worked in the public sector while migrants have dominated private business – in Saudi Arabia, for example, overseas workers make up more than 70 percent of the labour market.

However, Ficociello said the appetite is there from nationals to take up jobs in the private sector, particularly in the hospitality industry, with a relatively young population – 70 percent is under the age of 30 – “receptive to change”.

“A lot of the stigma from before about Saudis not wanting to go into the hotel industry, not wanting to be servers, not wanting to be cooks, not wanting to do floor management or be a receptionist, we don’t see those stigmas materialising,” she said.

“We have our own hotel up and running since last year. It’s our employee hotel on the site and it’s mostly staffed by Saudi employees on the floor. It proves that there is interest.”

Countries across the GCC have introduced various nationalisation targets in order to stem the heavy dependence on expat labour. 

“Saudisation” quotas typically range up to 70 percent for the private sector – and as much as 100 percent for certain jobs – with adjustment periods tailored to specific companies. Minimum wages have also been introduced for most occupations.

Ficociello said: “Of course, Saudi Arabia does have a minimum wage for Saudis and I guess that does help, too, but overall we’re seeing very good interest in the whole hotel industry.”

A study by Red Sea Global in late 2020, based on around 850 face-to-face interviews, also found that nine out of ten young Saudis surveyed said they would be keen on a job in the tourism and hospitality sectors, compared to 77 percent who said they wanted a role in petrochemicals.

Under the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 strategy, the tourism sector’s contribution to gross domestic product aims to increase to more than 10 percent, while providing 1.6 million additional job opportunities by 2030.

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