Strategy Bites: Salman Gasim, CEO, Swiss Hospitality Company
"We are in the middle of a huge national transformation: at a company level and at a government level, our mission is supporting the tourism human capital ecosystem to grow and become a global leading entity."
Strategy Bites is a series of interviews that LIRA Strategy Partners founder and Managing Director Raffaella Campagnoli is conducting with some of Saudi Arabia’s most notable business executives for Entrepreneur.com. In this edition, she talks to Salman Gasim, CEO, Swiss Hospitality Company.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the business that you lead.
I have been CEO at the Swiss Hospitality Company (SHC) since 2014, and I’m also a board member of various organizations all focused on human capital development in Saudi Arabia. SHC, specifically, is a leading Saudi-based firm, specialized in advisory and consulting in the area of tourism and hospitality for human capital development. We work with Saudi government, semi-government, and private entities to develop human capital in tourism and hospitality, driven by a quite simple but powerful concept: a development built around Swiss hospitality standards, combined with Saudi cultural values. Focused on tourism and hospitality, we support the achievement of workforce planning and development designed by Vision 2030.
As an enterprise in Saudi Arabia, how are you and your entity embracing Vision 2030?
Tourism and hospitality is indeed a crucial aspect of Vision 2030, one of the main pillars for the new Saudi economy, and a fundamental success factor for establishing a tourism economy locally. Saudi Arabia is going to need one million people for tourism and hospitality as a country; so far, we are developing programs for around 100,000 of those people. We are extremely active on a number of different projects that Vision 2030 boosted over the last years thanks to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman’s directions. According to the progression of each project, we classify the workforce gap according to three different layers:
THE IMMEDIATE NEEDS, like the tourism and hospitality projects having human capital needs today (such as the ones opening over the next months in need of qualified workforce)
THE MID-TERM ONES, like for example a hotel that is in a pre-opening phase (so opening in the next 6-12 months) and so needing to recruit local specialized staff
THE LONG-TERM PROJECTS, which are mainly the Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) gigaprojects, i.e. the most important projects in the Kingdom, like Qiddiya, Red Sea, NEOM, Amaala, Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA), for example, where we are supporting workforce planning for the end of 2023 or 2024, designing for them a set of programs fulfilling their specific human capital needs.
What are the key changes you are seeing when it comes to the business landscape in Saudi Arabia today?
In the last 15 years, Saudi Arabia was not embracing tourism, although, our culture is very oriented to hospitality. Hospitality is in our DNA as Saudis; we are now leveraging on our culture to make hospitality and tourism real career paths. One of the top priority programs we are about to launch, for example, is the Saudi Tourism Apprenticeship Program. Together with Olivier Harnisch, Head of PIF Hospitality, we designed a six-month intensive training dedicated to young nationals offering them the opportunity to learn front office, food and beverage, sales and marketing, finance and accounting in a very practical and operational way, so as to get the qualifications ranging from “skilled worker” to “para professional.
Salman Gasim, CEO, Swiss Hospitality Company. Source: Swiss Hospitality Company
What are the kind of opportunities you are offering to Saudi people willing to join the tourism and hospitality industry?
We are in the middle of a huge national transformation: at a company level and at a government level, our mission is supporting the tourism human capital ecosystem to grow and become a global leading entity. The ecosystem is involving local partners, including non-profit organizations, and also international ones, such as the United Nations, the World Tourism Organization, the Swiss Hospitality Company, and the Ministry of Tourism.
In a nutshell, three are our strategic objectives:
Creating jobs by generating a local and international professional career journeys to our people
Offering our female workforce the opportunity of joining the tourism and hospitality industry.
Generating awareness about the image of the industry: 90% of hotel general managers have been reception operators or waiters at the beginning of their careers, but that is just a starting point.
We are, indeed, providing Saudi nationals not only with the opportunity of working in their own country, but also to export, in the long term, our hospitality values internationally.
As the leader of a business in Saudi Arabia, what are the things that keep you up at night?
As I mentioned before, generating awareness about the meaning of creating a new industry and the consequences of it is a significant challenge. This means infusing the population -kids, parents, teachers, families, business owners, and, in general, the citizens- that such a huge transformation can happen only with a significant mindset shift. Tourism and hospitality can really represent a great opportunity for our people in the future– being able to leverage on it means to learn a new set of skills, tools, practice and theory from scratch; something totally new to the Kingdom’s population.