OTC is currently the only college in Oman specializing in tourism. How does that position you in the Omani education market?
In 2001, the government decided to establish OTC. It was necessary to have a specialized college that would provide the labor market with qualified, well-trained, local professionals in tourism and hospitality. I want to emphasize that hospitality education and training was the main focus of the college between 2001 and 2013. OTC, as an education and training provider, plays its role very well according to its goals and objective. Its efforts were complemented with another institute specialized in providing training programs in hospitality professions. Currently, there are four or five institutes offering hospitality training programs and also a few colleges and universities offering degree programs in tourism management. The tourism sector is growing fast, and the college is moving in line with the growth of the sector.
Given that Oman has a relatively young population, what work needs to be done to attract youth to tourism?
The tourism industry is not that attractive to the Omani society at large; it is not seen as an appealing career path, partly because of the stereotypical image it has in the society. We have to educate society, and especially parents, to combat this perception. The tourism industry is large, and it does not only consist of hotels. There are eight sub-sectors within the tourism and travel sector. Attracting students revolves around awareness. Thanks to efforts of stakeholders in general in this regard, the number of students registered at the college and other such institutes has increased. In fact, I can say it is increasing exponentially.
Which segments of the tourism and hospitality industry are offered at OTC?
We have the capacity to offer any type of training programs that are directly related to tourism and hospitality. The tourism industry has eight sub-sectors as I mentioned. The tourism industry is growing in all areas, and we offer a good number of short courses related to tourism and hospitality. Also, we offer degrees and diplomas in three specializations—tourism and hospitality management, event management, and tourism marketing—via our affiliation with Dublin Institute of Technology. Tourism and hospitality management is attracting more students, and the new event management degree program is picking up traction, attracting good attention from students. OTC is the only college that offers a degree program in event management.
What are the biggest challenges for OTC right now?
The tourism industry in Oman is facing a major challenge in that the tourism season is barely five months out of the year. The question now is what companies and the government can do to promote tourism all-year round. Due to the seasonality of tourism, companies are reluctant to employ graduates full time. This is one of the reasons why companies do not wish to employ Omanis. They are looking at expatriates who can be employed on a temporary or part-time basis according to seasonal needs. I can understand their point of view, but this is not fair to young Omani graduates. The college is trying to attract more and more students to fill the labor market, which is projected to absorb more than 500,000 jobs by 2040 as per the Oman Tourism Strategy and about 21,000 by 2020 as per Tanfeedh program projection. But employment based on seasonality hinders these efforts. One of the things we do to mitigate this challenge is coordinate with tourism companies to offer educational programs that are more in line with specific market needs so that the graduates will be more suitable for the companies compared to expatriate workers. We make sure that students are well engaged with the industry through on-the-job training or internship training.