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Hospitality Education in the Mideast Stays on Course Despite Covid-19

Despite the devastation caused by Covid-19 on the Middle East’s travel industry, hospitality and tourism education in the region has remained resilient, with programs in several countries reporting strong enrollments.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group based in London, the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdowns it prompted could wipe out around 200 million tourism jobs worldwide and cut global GDP by more than $5.5 trillion.

Many students, however, are opting to remain enrolled in hospitality programs. Some appear confident that by the time they graduate, the industry will be getting back on its feet, with job opportunities returning while they are busy studying. Others seem less enthusiastic but still see the industry as one of their better prospects for employment.

Christopher Dutt, a senior lecturer at the Emirates Academy for Hospitality Management, in Dubai, says that “in the short-term, some students will be more cautious about enrolling in any form of education until the situation is calmer and more predictable.” But other, mostly older students, he adds, are viewing further education as a means to update their knowledge and skills, especially during times of slow business.

At Middlesex University Dubai, there has been no visible decline in enrollments, according to Cody Paris, deputy director for academic planning and research.  “The tourism industry is resilient and likely will recover to pre-pandemic levels in many destinations within a couple of years,” Paris says. Hospitality programs, therefore, remain “an attractive option for many students,” he says.

Adapting to Online Learning

At both of those institutions and others across the region, pedagogy has had to adapt.

Dutt says the Emirates Academy for Hospitality Management has adopted a more blended format. It would be difficult to put hospitality education entirely online, he says. “Blended learning offers a suitable middle ground that provides the flexibility of online courses and the interactive, hands-on experience of face-to-face learning.”

In the short-term, he foresees more focus on crisis management, and Covid-19 in particular, across all classes. “Already several education support programs, such as simulations, have incorporated Covid-like situations,” he explains.

“In the short-term, some students will be more cautious about enrolling in any form of education until the situation is calmer and more predictable.”

Christopher Dutt
 A senior lecturer at the Emirates Academy for Hospitality Management.

This is certainly a time to reassess, agrees Paris, and the industry as a whole may benefit from that. “The pandemic has accelerated emerging trends in tourism education to focus on understanding how we can do tourism better by aligning practices to sustainable development, supporting small and medium enterprises, and encouraging entrepreneurship at grass-roots level,” he says.

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of preparing students to engage with technology, he says, and has accelerated the integration of particular technologies in the industry.  He envisages that post-Covid-19, there will be a greater use of smart technologies, automation, and robotics.

Virtual Internships

Dubai has long been a rich location for travel industry students looking for on-the-job training. For now, though, access to key industry partners is on hold.

Essa Bin Hadher, general manager of Dubai College of Tourism, says his institution had to innovate to get around the challenges, including creating a virtual internship program for students who finished their academic year in June. The virtual internships, designed to help students prepare for working life, featured real-time training and mentoring by experts in the students’ chosen fields.

The internships focused on five key disciplines: culinary arts, hospitality, tourism, events, and retail business. “DCT partnered with Hilton to deliver internships in culinary arts and hospitality, and with Dubai Tourism to provide internships to our tourism, retail business and events students,” Bin Hadher explains.

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With the gradual reopening of Dubai’s tourism sector, some of the practical aspects of the learning process may be getting back on track in the coming academic year, says Bin Hadher. These will work alongside virtual classrooms, with practical demonstrations, live guest lecturers, Q&A sessions, group presentations, role-plays and assessments, which are then presented online.

“Subjects and learning outcomes have not changed but more emphasis is placed on new areas of importance such as health and safety,” says Bin Hadher. “Hospitality education will continue to play a pivotal role in efforts to further enhance the quality of the industry workforce, and education providers will have to adapt to the changing realities to ensure the student is able to complete a program from start to finish without any disruption.”

Hopes for Job Opportunities

In Tunisia, where tourism is a key part of the national economy, the sector’s revenues through August 20 this year decreased by 60 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to statistics published by the Central Bank of Tunisia.

However, that has not deterred students, who feel the industry is their only hope. Wijdan Saadi, a student preparing to join the Higher Professional Institute of Tourism El Kantaoui, in Sousse, says: “Tourism may have stopped due to coronavirus this year, but this is an emergency and it will disappear. Tunisia is a tourist country and there is no future for job opportunities except in this field.”

“The coronavirus crisis harms everyone, but it will not last for long. My love for studying tourism guidance will not change. I love this field and will work in it.”

Osama Mamdouh Al-Muzain
 A second-year student in the Tourist Guidance Department at Fayoum University.

In Egypt, where tourism accounts for around 12 percent of the national income,  or around $1 billion per month, Covid-19 has been a disaster economically, despite the authorities’ attempt to support the sector by opening borders and letting hotels and tourist sites resume operations.

Some students, however, like Osama Mamdouh Al-Muzain, a second-year student in the Tourist Guidance Department at Fayoum University, remain optimistic. “The coronavirus crisis harms everyone,” says Al-Muzain, “but it will not last for long. My love for studying tourism guidance will not change. I love this field and will work in it.”

Tourism and hospitality education in Egypt accounts for around 600 full-time faculty members and nearly 12,000 students at the nine public colleges that grant tourism and hotel bachelor’s degrees. Many other students enroll in private tourism education programs.

Studies have been online since March, so Al-Muzain did not receive his practical training scheduled for this year with a tourism company, but he hopes this will resume next year. “The training is important and I will get it later after the tourism sector returns to work,” he explains.

Concern for the Future

Not everyone feels so hopeful, however. Rania Mamdouh, graduated this year from the Department of Tourism Studies at South Valley University, in Luxor. “I used to work during the summer in an airline company and train at the same time,” she says, but “because of the coronavirus, work stopped. I fear for my future due to the recurrence of crises that cause direct damage to the tourism sector, such as terrorism and instability. This sector is the first affected by crises and the last recovering from it,” she says.

Studying tourism was her dream, and she fought the opposition of family members who work in tourism and encouraged her to choose a more stable path. Now, she understands their concerns. “I am concerned about my future at work with the decline in tourism and the absence of opportunities, which makes me think of working in another field at least for now, if I find an opportunity.”

Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, a professor at the Department of Hotel Management at South Valley University, is more confident of the industry’s ability to recover. “It is not possible to judge a field of work during a period of crisis,” he says. “The coronavirus had an impact on all aspects of life, and despite this, the tourism sector is resilient and is recovering.”

Melanie Swan reported from Dubai and Tarek El Galil reported from Assiut, Egypt.


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