In Conversation with…HE Sheikh Khaled bin Khalifa Al Khalifa

The General Director of Vatel Bahrain on job satisfaction and the importance of training for the Kingdom’s tourism sector.

What was it that first drew you to the hospitality industry?
People! I knew I wanted to be around people. After spending about seven-and-a-half years in public finance, I decided to move from a back-office-type job to one where I knew I would have endless opportunities to interact with people. I wanted this so I could not only expand my skills but also grow my network. I thought about working at the airport as well as in the hospitality industry as I knew both options would offer a dynamic working environment where I would get to meet people from all cultures and walks of life. Besides being a growing and interesting industry, I discovered that there is something about serving others that is very satisfying and fulfilling. Not only this, but I also learned that hotels provide a unique working environment and also take pride in offering in-house training which leads to promotion and a comparably fast career progression both locally and internationally. Not long after, I was offered an opportunity to work in a public educational institution where I found myself enjoying the contribution my work had in supporting the success of our students and I became even more fulfilled. A few years later, and here I am heading-up a prestigious educational institution that offers an international degree locally that also caters to the hospitality and tourism industry. Isn’t life sweet?

How do you think Vatel contributes towards the growth of the industry in terms of Vision 2030 and its role in empowering youth, particularly young Bahrainis?
Vatel was established here in Bahrain in 2018 in order to fulfil the aims of Vision 2030. Indeed, many readers may not realise that although we are a private higher education institution, we actually operate under the patronage of the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority. The reason for our establishment was to professionalise the industry, encourage more Bahrainis to join the industry and fill the many positions within luxury hotels and resorts. Vatel was selected because it is the top degree in France for Hospitality & Leisure Management (QS world ranking 2022) and we need to supply this growing industry with well-qualified graduates. Our bachelor’s in International Hotel Management offers students a management degree that is focused on the hospitality and tourism industry. The core modules within the degree are Management, Marketing and Human Resources, and our unique teaching method stimulates students as it is 50% practical (they learn from leaders within four- and five-star hotels) which means when they graduate, they have more than two years’ relevant work experience. Our first batch of students will graduate this academic year and we are pleased that most have already been offered jobs within this vibrant industry.

What are your plans for the future of the school and what do you hope to achieve going forward?
Currently, around 60% of our student body are Bahrainis, followed by 10% from KSA and the rest are from various places around the world ranging from the Seychelles to the UK. We hope to maintain this cultural diversity within our students going forward. We also hope to increase student mobility both by welcoming students from overseas to Vatel, and also by our students participating in our award-winning Marco Polo student exchange programme whereby any Vatel student can choose to study at another Vatel campus in their second year (the Vatel group has 55 campuses in 31 countries and 9,000 students globally). We already have a successful partnership with EKLYA School of Business in Lyon, France, and we are looking for other university partners too.
We have many more exciting plans for the future of Vatel in Bahrain. We hope to launch our MBA within the next calendar year, and we also hope to open a training centre that will offer short courses in hospitality, as well as tailored courses in leadership, marketing, entrepreneurship etc. The other project in the pipeline is that in the very near future, we hope to introduce other Vatel brands including Vatel Café, Vatel Restaurant and Vatel Gourmet, so watch this space… These brands will provide our students with real-life learning opportunities and will also bring something new to the market here.

Do you think the hospitality sector in Bahrain can ever reach full capacity or can the economy absorb ever increasing numbers of hotels, restaurants etc?
The fact that the largest hotel conglomerates continue to invest in new properties and resorts here is extremely positive and is testament to the fact that they believe Bahrain will continue to attract growing numbers of visitors. Not only this, but Vision 2030 is encouraging the economy to diversify away from traditional sources of income such as oil and gas and into tourism instead. It is also great for competition as an increased number of hotels and restaurants will only serve to increase competition, so heightened levels of service and innovation will be key to winning guest satisfaction and therefore succeeding in this competitive market.
Bahrain’s strategy is to significantly increase visitor numbers and there are many exciting projects underway in order to achieve this. There are multiple new beach developments, an increased number of world-class events will be brought to Bahrain, as well as diversification of the tourism industry itself – The Minister of Industry, Commerce & Tourism, HE Zayed R. Al Zayani is aiming to position Bahrain as a competitor to other regional destinations for winter sun holidays, weddings and medical tourism and the Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority is strongly supporting these efforts.

Having come through the pandemic, what do you think will be the biggest challenge facing the Kingdom’s hospitality sector going forward?
The biggest challenge for the industry here in Bahrain is recruiting qualified staff. Hotel occupancies are rising and some are above pre-pandemic levels. The industry is looking for qualified talent and that is what we seek to provide them with. ✤