Dive into an enlightening discussion with Ivan Ilic, a Guest Relations & Marketing Executive working in the fast-paced luxury hospitality industry of Saudi Arabia for LPM Bar & Restaurant. Originally from Europe, Ivan now calls the Kingdom his home away from home. In this engaging conversation, he sheds light on his fascinating journey of adaptation to the local culture, and his experiences navigating the rising bar of customer service in the country.
From capturing the familial bonds and unity unique to working in Saudi Arabia, to highlighting the rapid growth and promising future of the hospitality sector in the country, Ivan paints a picture of a dynamic industry on the move. He also reveals the exciting opportunities the Kingdom offers for career growth, making a strong case for why Saudi Arabia is an attractive destination for talent in the global hospitality scene.
Join us for this captivating exploration into the heart of Middle Eastern hospitality, as we uncover what truly sets the Saudi Arabian hospitality sector apart and how it's preparing to make its mark on the world stage.
What motivated you to pursue a career in the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia?
Before relocating to Saudi Arabia, I was already building a career in the hospitality industry back in Dubai. It was not an easy call, I must admit; however, I would say that curiosity to experience a country like Saudi Arabia took the win.
At that time, I had a different idea of what the Kingdom was like. When I arrived in Riyadh, it was a true cultural shock, and I discovered a country so welcoming and warm, which are the main two things I consider to be the definition of hospitality.
How would you describe the overall work culture and environment in the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia?
That depends on the company. In the last few years, the country is expanding rapidly its hospitality sector and more Saudi nationals are part of it, both females and males. I find the work environment to be quite diverse and passionate.
Despite the strong Saudization program, restaurants and hotels have the right balance between expats and locals. In some companies the ratio is higher in the favor of Saudi nationals. To my observation, locals are very family oriented, and they take those values – tradition and hospitality – and adapt them in the modern hospitality world.
Are there any notable differences in the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia compared to your home country in Europe? If so, what are they?
If I was asked this question a decade ago or so, I would probably say yes. Now, things are different. Everything is changing. The Kingdom has evolved at such a rapid pace and that’s reflected in the hospitality sector – the European model of hospitality is very much present in the current growing market in Saudi Arabia, so I would say that there are not many differences between the two.
What challenges did you face when adapting to the cultural and social norms in Saudi Arabia, and how did you overcome them?
It might sound strange, but I didn’t face any challenges whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I adapted to the local culture easily and faster than I expected. I guess this is related to my previous exposure to Arabic social norms while living in Dubai.
However, not every experience is the same as mine. There are people who do have difficulties adapting to this environment, but then again that depends on their lifestyle, in general.
How would you describe the level of professionalism and customer service expectations in Saudi Arabia?
Nowadays, people are travelling more and are connected even more so when visiting a restaurant or a hotel, customers in Saudi Arabia already are coming with the notion of what the fine dining concepts and sophisticated service are; therefore, expectations are very high. Majority of the professionals and companies here take the western model of hospitality as a reference.
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In your opinion, what are the key strengths of the Saudi Arabian luxury hospitality sector that sets it apart from other countries?
Saudi Arabia is currently one of the most competitive markets in the hospitality industry. Ever since the Kingdom opened its door to tourism, a few years ago, it slowly positioned itself on the global map as a “bleisure” (business and leisure) destination.
The country is going head-to-head with the modern hospitality trends and it’s strongly focusing on sustainable living with projects such as the Red Sea and Neom the Line, with a plan to deliver world class infrastructure, hospitality, tourism, and residential facilities.
Can you share any memorable experiences or interactions you've had with guests or colleagues that highlight the unique aspects of working in Saudi Arabia?
There are so many of them, to be honest, and I can’t really pick only one. I have wonderful colleagues and we all treat each other like a family. That true spirit of unity is present in my day-to-day life. It’s something I didn’t experience elsewhere before.
Guests feel that and they respond in the same way. Building strong connections with my guests and making them feel like they are part of the family is one of the reasons I am truly thankful for the journey I embarked on a few years ago that took me to Saudi Arabia.
What opportunities for career growth and development have you found in the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia that you can’t find in other destinations?
When talking about professional growth and development, it’s something that depends solely on the company’s culture that one works in.
In my case I can say that, indeed, I achieved much more in the last three years in Riyadh, thanks to the opportunities given by my current company. I would say that companies here truly value talent over experience and this is what makes the Kingdom different from other destinations.
How has your experience working in Saudi Arabia impacted your personal and professional growth? How do you think this experience will benefit you if you decide one day to move and work in luxury hospitality in another destination?
Working and living in Saudi Arabia truly changed me in so many ways, both on a personal and professional level. There were challenges, and not everything was “honey and gold”, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s all about how one can turn challenges into opportunities and that’s what I did.
On one side, I grew so much as a professional. I learned a lot, I developed, and I also had to adapt. On the other side, I left my comfort zone; I moved boundaries and I pushed myself beyond limits.
Now, I can say that I’m truly glad that I persevered in those moments of doubt… and I had a lot of them. This experience keeps me motivated and excited for whatever will come next – be it a new challenge or a new destination.
How do you see the future of the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia, and what potential opportunities or challenges do you anticipate?
The future of the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia looks quite promising. The market and the country are developing rapidly and so many projects are ongoing now and so many more are coming. The Kingdom is slowly but surely becoming a hot spot of the Middle East.
With the big international names and brands of the hospitality industry finding their place not only in the cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, but other parts of the Kingdom, hospitality and tourism expansion is not limited to land-based attractions but also to the sea – cruise industry.
We hope you enjoyed this eye-opening conversation with Ivan Ilic, and that it gave you a new perspective on the rewarding opportunities in Saudi Arabia's hospitality industry.
Feeling inspired? If you're ready to take the next step in your career, or simply curious to learn more, check out the wide range of job openings in Saudi Arabia currently available on Hosco. Dive into the vibrant world of Middle Eastern luxury hospitality and start your next professional adventure today!