The region is investing $3.67 trillion developing 820 new hotels and adding 750,000 rooms by 2020, said Gerard Lawless, executive chairman of Jumeirah Group, at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.

The challenge was finding qualified professionals to fill the 500,000 jobs the hotels will create.

“Guests like to see local people working in the industry,” Lawless said.

The UAE currently accounts for three-quarters of the hotel industry growth in the region.

“The challenge over the next five years is supporting local governments to develop hotel training, and to create a service culture in the younger generation.

“It’s a hell of a challenge. We need more nationals to serve – as has happened in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,” said Amine Moukarzel, president of Flamingo Hotels.

The hotel industry is competing for human capital with the airline and luxury cruise liner industries, said Ketih Yates, president and chief executive officer of hospitality consultancy Performa Global.

Hoteliers need to attract the right people by offering competitive remuneration packages, benefits, vocational training and apprenticeships, Yates said.

“There is a small pool of people who are energetic, able to speak English, able to socialise and are customer-oriented.

“This group of people are in high demand and, most often, the predators are in the airline industry, which is able to almost double the salaries the hotel industry offers, as well as giving excellent accommodation and a host of added benefits,” he said.