Saudisation clampdown causes chaos in travel sector

Many Saudi travel agencies are operating with a skeleton staff after a Saudisation drive threw the industry into turmoil.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  March 10, 2004

Many travel agencies in Saudi Arabia are operating with a skeleton staff, after the government’s Saudisation drive threw the industry into turmoil. The Riyadh authorities have been raiding travel agency offices, arresting foreign staff and shaving their heads, as they look to enforce Saudisation targets. "The whole travel industry at least in Riyadh is in turmoil and confusion over the raids," Rashid Al-Mugaid, general manager of United Saudi Travel Agents (USTA) told Arab News. The Saudisation plan called for all foreign frontline staff in the travel agencies to be replaced by Saudi nationals by the end of February. The governorate also asked the General Organisation for Technical Education and Vocational Training (GOTEVOT) to provide training for Saudi nationals. However, despite the government efforts there are nowhere near enough trained Saudis able to take on jobs in the travel sector. “Though the company is very interested in Saudising jobs, it has not been able to find qualified Saudi staff in time,” commented Muhammad Qaiser of NAFA/NABA Travel Agency. The Saudi travel industry is now forecasting a troubled tourist season, as a grossly inadequate number of Saudi staff are manning thousands of travel outlets across the country. Sales have also dropped substantially since the raids started last week, with Saudi youngster often left in charge of offices. "How can you leave the reservation and ticketing jobs to be handled alone by untrained staff, who might write LHE for LHR (Lahore for London) on an air ticket?" asked Ejaz Hussain of Arabsas Travel and Tourist Agency. "For Saudisation to work in the travel sector, our travel agencies must follow the example of Saudi Arabian Airlines, which has achieved over 89 percent Saudisation," added another Saudi travel agent. The national flag carrier has gradually trained up Saudi staff and replaced its foreign worker with locals over many years, spending substantial amounts in the process. However, the unnamed Saudi travel agent opined that the government was so strongly enforcing nationalisation in the travel sector to help Saudia. "Travel agencies are being told to expedite Saudisation since most foreign staff tend to promote foreign airlines at the expense of our own national carrier," he commented. However, the government clampdown has not yet targeted the offices of foreign airlines in the Kingdom, which usually operate under a sponsor or a general sales agent. For instance, Chris Phipps, BA's country manager for Saudi Arabia, said "We have not received any communication from the Ministry of Labor, the Presidency of Civil Aviation or from any other government agency so far.”

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