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Building an outstanding career in hospitality and tourism

Tips from an exemplary hospitality marketing expert
Sarah Khaled Photo
Sarah Khaled Photo

Hers is an industry classified amongst the top female-led industries in the world. In Oman, the tourism and hospitality sector is expected to contribute to the country’s GDP by OMR 3 billion by 2028. Dramatically changing in the past decades, women have become more apt for the hospitality sector as female hoteliers “portray a leadership style that is highly recognized and appreciated by the employees.”

Sarah Khaled’s inclusion as one of the 50 best hotel marketing talents in the Middle East released by Hotelier Middle East wasn’t an accident. The only one who is based in Oman, part of the accolade was because of her showstopping ideas and campaign which not only provided proof of her effectiveness as a communicator but is also a testament to how proper marketing brings money to a business.

With insight into the inner workings of hospitality in the Sultanate, Sarah has been exemplary in nearly all aspects. She’s not only a trendsetter but a commodity in the hotel industry. One of her most needed skillsets is her fluency and mastery of both Arabic and English, her luxury background that trace back to almost 15 years, and the powerful network she’s created for herself which not only boost her credibility but also provides her with the support she needs to navigate the politics and challenges of being a hotelier and a marketer.

Oman Daily Observer reached out to Sarah for her to share some insights as to how Omani hoteliers and marketers can also break barriers and become global talents that will help the hospitality and tourism industry in the country grow.

In the Middle East, particularly in Oman, there is still a bit of reservation in getting into hospitality and tourism. Having managed the marketing and communications of different luxury and five-star properties across the region, can you share the current trend you’re noticing? Is the industry still solely for women?

Despite the dynamic nature of hotel life, hotel marketing roles have been predominantly occupied by females for a long time now. I personally believe that it started organically, then it evolved into a trend which then turned into a misconception by both, employers and applicants. However, throughout the past couple of years, this has been slowly shifting to welcoming good talents regardless of their gender, and in Oman, there are a couple of gentlemen working in this field who are pulling off a great job indeed.

You were the only marketing expert on the list that is based in Oman. From your personal experience, how do you think can others improve and become better suited for the hospitality and tourism sector?

The warm Omani hospitality is synonymous with the ethos of the hotel industry. Passionate Omani Hoteliers To-Be can thrive in this field. So, to every Omani talent out there, if you are new to this field and you do not know from where to start, research about different hotel companies and brands in Oman and identify the ones that are closest to your heart.

The next step is reaching out to the HR departments of these hotels by email or even to the hotel professionals via LinkedIn for training and internship opportunities. This will provide you with practical experience and on-the-job training to unlock your potential. Usually, when you prove to be a solid performer by the end of your internship, you can end up with a permanent contract; so that you can embark on your hospitality journey from there.

If you are an existing Omani Hotelier and looking for career progression, be proactive and chase opportunities that make you stand out. Volunteer to support other departments within your hotel through a wider scope of work, even if it was during your free time. Remember that every minute you spend now is a self-investment in the future.

To sum it up, the ingredients are simple for your hotel-career discovery: Be passionate, dedicated, consistent, keep your smile on, always go the extra mile, and do not lose the eagerness to learn.

Key Tip: No matter how senior we are, we are on a consistent learning curve. Pick one key person whom you wish to be in his or her place in the future and ask them for coaching, guidance, and mentorship, or even job shadowing for a day!

What are the most common misconceptions about hotel marketing and communications?

Marketing and Communications play a fundamental role in the ecosystem of the hotel industry, and the importance of this role gets amplified, when you operate in a luxury hotel brand such as The Shangri-La.

MarCom (Marketing and Communications) is a complex position that includes several functionalities, and it involves a lot of planning ahead. The main functions of this role include but are not limited to brand positioning, 360 campaign ideation and execution, content creation, brand compliance, all printed materials, online/offline advertising, direct marketing, social media management, online presence, sales presentations, B2B marketing, reputation management, crisis communications, media relations, PR activities and partnerships in addition to analytics and reporting.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a wide belief that working in hotel Marketing and PR is a “glamorous” role that involves only mixing with celebrities, and the rich and famous. While this does occasionally happen, 90% of the time it involves plain hard work, long working hours and resilience; so that you can really stand out.

For anyone planning a job along this line of work and industry, what should be the required skill set or characters one must possess to do it successfully?

At Shangri-La, we hire for attitude and passion, then the experience requirements come into play depending on the position and the seniority of the job role. From a hotel MarCom perspective, this expands to creativity, innovation, market intelligence, and deep knowledge of consumer insights which are essential criteria for a successful marketer. Omanis are also beginning to fully understand the importance of hospitality and tourism as a career.

In doing your job, what is your mantra or the words you live by and why?

Success starts by believing in an idea, having what it takes to make it happen, going out there to achieve it, and doing what you love every day! You just need to discover the entrepreneur in you and learn to own your ideas.

I also subscribe to the quote of Brian Herbert which says: “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”.

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