At historic Helnan Palestine Hotel, where “service with a smile” is the order of the day, staff members are studying English.
The five-star landmark on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast is encouraging personnel to take a free course that will improve their ability to communicate with international guests and raise satisfaction rates among this important clientele.
The Helnan Palestine is not alone. Currently some 139 top hotels across Egypt are participating in a massive communications project aimed at raising the English language and cross-cultural proficiency of thousands of workers in Egypt’s large and growing travel and tourism industry. Travel and tourism currently account for around 12 percent of jobs in the country and one-fifth of Egyptian export earnings. Linking communication skills to success, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) have joined forces with AMIDEAST to mount this training effort. ETF anticipates that satisfaction rates among the thousands of international tourists who visit Egypt annually will rise when the country’s “frontline” tourism workers — from housekeeping, food, and beverage workers to maintenance workers and desk clerks — are able to communicate more effectively with these visitors.
The English Skills for Egyptian Tourism (ESET) Project, launched just over a year ago, calls for the training of up to 100,000 tourism workers in basic English language and cross-cultural communication skills over a three-year period. To implement the project, AMIDEAST began by putting into place a program to train teachers to be deployed at hotels throughout the country to provide the instruction for hotel staff. So far, 150 teachers have been certified to teach and are working in hotels in Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Cairo, Queseir, Safaga, Taba, Ein Sokhna, Marsa Alam, North Coast, Port Said, El Wahat, and Dahab.
With a cadre of teachers ready for action, AMIDEAST was able to launch the English for Hotel Staff Program in fall 2009. Dubbed “Enjoy Your Stay in Egypt” after the textbook used for the course, the curriculum is designed to provide basic English and cross-cultural communication skills to students with a beginning-to-elementary proficiency in English. Rich in the vocabulary and expressions specific to their work, the curriculum aims to enable tourism workers to understand different accents and use accurate terminology so as to respond appropriately and politely to guest inquiries, requests, and complaints — and ultimately to provide better customer satisfaction. So far, nearly 14,000 hotel staff have enrolled in the course, 9,000 have successfully completed the three-level program, and approximately 5,000 are expected to complete it by the end of December 2010.
On another track, a new program for hotel management will work with some 500 hotel executives and managers with high-intermediate to advanced communication skills in English. The two-part program blends face-to-face instruction with distance learning in a series of two 40-hour courses that are based on a modular approach and integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing tasks as well as online skills. Program graduates are well prepared to pursue advanced education avenues like the specialized hospitality certificate programs offered by the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) in association with the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
The program is currently being piloted with 82 hotel managers in seven Cairo hotels, with a major expansion of the program to other hotels and cities planned for January 2011.
While it is still too soon to see the results translate into gains for Egypt’s tourism industry, the program is clearly proving its benefits. “I discovered that several parts of this curriculum will save me the embarrassment I feel every time I have to respond to a guest,” notes Adel Hamdy, a housekeeper at the Cairo Sheraton Hotel, whose motivation enabled him to pass the first level exam with high marks. As a development project for the Egyptian teachers, the program has also reaped praise. Many were recent university graduates or had different professions before taking the teacher-training course and have since discovered a new vocation. “It has been a turning point in my career,” affirmed Mohamed Ibrahim, who had never taught English before, but values his newfound understanding of teaching techniques and methodologies.