Emirati tour guides seek to 'shatter stereotypes'

Of the 1,200 guides in the country, around 300 are Emirati and there is a push to increase the figure

Eighteen Emiratis graduated from the Emirati Tourist Guide Training & Licensing programme on Sunday. Christopher Pike / The National
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Sara Al Balooshi is looking forward to shattering stereotypes of Emiratis, particularly perceptions of Emirati women, that she often encounters when she travels abroad. 
"They come here and they never deal with us, so when I travel abroad they say 'we came to the UAE but we never got to interact with locals, yet you guys are so much fun'."
Ms Al Balooshi is among 18 Emirati tour guides who graduated from the 11-week Emirati Tourist Guide Training & Licensing programme on Sunday.
She believes that "being taken by an Emirati guide, (will) mean much more to" visitors. The 24-year-old currently works in corporate communication at Abu Dhabi National Energy.

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Saif Ghobash, director general of Department of Culture and Tourism (ADTC), said introducing more Emirati tour guides will boost the tourism sector, create more job opportunities and help to diversify the economy.
Today, of the 1,200 guides in the country, around 300 of them are Emiratis. "And I want to add to them," Mr Ghobash said. "We've seen that it has become very popular with the young generation, because it gives a lot of room for the person to express creativity in his work," he said.
The department funded the course fees for the Emiratis. The doors will be open to expatriates starting Monday, with a total fee of Dh5,500.
The female turnout was significantly higher than males –  14 of the graduates are women.
Mr Ghobash said this was part of the government's plan to encourage more women in the workforce.
"I want to be the first face that tourists see: Maitha an Emirati woman representing her country," said Maitha Essa, after receiving her certificate.
Coming from a communications background, the 25-year-old said she has always been interested in dealing with different cultures and languages.
"So when they launched the program I was so happy. I see myself doing this as an ambassador since people are interacting with me as the first face they see."
While only English and Arabic are the official languages of the tours, she is looking forward to practicing her beginner's level French, Korean, Japanese and Tagalog with visitors from around the globe.
"So if I receive a Japanese tourist, I can greet him in Japanese," said Ms Essa.
A number of course graduates had already mastered Korean and Japanese, which she said encouraged learning between the students themselves during the programme. 
Another graduate, Mohammed Tarmoom, works in the complex world of aerospace analysis. Now he will be showing off his beloved city to visitors and guests. "I enjoy it, to talk about Abu Dhabi and its achievements is always something good, especially when you do it as a hobby."
As a senior analyst for aerospace in Mubadala, he gets to work with many partners from abroad, "so they ask us about things around them, like 'why do you guys do this and that and how?'"
"Like they would ask 'why did you guys build Lulu island if you have one hundred islands?'"
The answer is that it would break waves.
"So I thought I need to learn more. Not that I don't know the answers, but they ask a lot of questions so you need to be ready," explained the 26-year-old.
Inspired by tour guides he has seen from his frequent travels, he discovered that a creative tour guide could transform a visitor's experience, and therefore decided that this is something he would like to do for his country.
Mr Ghobash disregarded the idea that salaries in the tourism sector were not lucrative enough for UAE nationals.
"I don't see salaries as an issue, in the sector there is a lot of competition, and in this job the more creative you are the more demand you will get and the higher you will get paid," he said.