Jaana Raisanen, Director of Quality for Professional and Vocational Studies, Oman Tourism College
Tell us about your career so far.
I have 25 years of international experience in the tourism and hospitality industry, of which roughly one third is in operations management, a third is in project management and another third in training. Before arriving in Oman, I was working as a project manager for an EU project dealing with tourism product development for SMEs in Finland and Estonia for two years. I have worked as a general manager for hotels in Zanzibar and Amsterdam, as well as a group training and development manager in the Maldives. My previous positions include a training and marketing adviser post with the United Nations Development Programme in Tanzania, an international relations manager position for a training institute in Finland and several room division management positions, to name a few.
What attracted you to the tourism sector?
As I child, I lived with my parents in Nigeria for five years and I had friends from around the world and spoke English fluently. The hospitality and tourism sector was a natural choice later for my studies as I wanted to experience new cultures. I actually first tried the sector by working a couple of summers in holiday villages in reception and found out that I really enjoyed the buzz.
You were working in Finland before. What prompted you to move to Oman?
Cold, dark and depressing winters in Finland… that’s one part, but another is that before Finland I was managing a resort in Zanzibar where I was intrigued by my exposure to the Omani culture. That experience left me wanting to know more about Oman.
How does the Omani way of life and working differ from the Scandinavian?
Here in Oman people come first, then work – which I tend to forget – and then often go directly to business without pausing to really connect to the person and their feelings. I hope I am still forgiven as I must often seem very rude for being too direct. Omanis also have a lovely way of putting their words very poetically, whereas Finnish people tend to be short and not so sweet. Finland is only now beginning to realise the importance of networking, which in Oman is absolutely essential.
Give us the lowdown on Oman Tourism College.
We have about 600 students studying different programmes, including foundation, diploma or Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management (awarded by the Dublin Institute of Technology), as well as in professional or vocational short courses. Almost all students are Omani, but we do accept all nationalities. We work hand in hand with the tourism and hospitality companies to assist them in their human resources requirements.
Tourism is growing rapidly in Oman. What are the challenges of attracting young people to work in the sector?
All the general managers and human resources managers that I have met so far have had the same issue – they are really struggling to get Omani staff. Thus, our students are in much demand. Again, all companies offer fantastic career opportunities to ensure that the new recruits to grow with them to managerial positions later on.
But still, not all of our graduates choose this industry when they finish their diploma or degree, but rather opt for another service-related sector or the government. Some of the reasons are easy – like the pay or the working hours, but others are a bit more complex – such as the poor image of the industry. In Oman, a proper image campaign really is needed in order to portray the sector as it is – a reliable, serious industry where Omanis, men and women, can have a respectable career with fantastic career growth opportunities.
What plans do you have for the college in the future?
Increase the range of professional courses and customised courses for the industry as well as introduce two new bachelor level programmes in September 2014: event management and tourism marketing. We have recently started to offer courses to the general public in languages and culinary skills, as well as introducing different forms of tourism such us sports tourism, interpreting cultural heritage, adventure tourism, geotourism and culinary tourism.
You’ve worked all over the world. Which is the best place you’ve been so far and why?
I realised the other day that I have not exactly worked in hardship destinations – the Maldives, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Amsterdam, Sardinia and Lapland in Finland. All these places feature in exclusive tour operators catalogues, so I am tremendously lucky. I must say that I carry all of the places (and the people) in my heart. It is not really possible to say which would have been the best without doing injustice to the rest. And now I am in Oman, so this is the best place!
Describe yourself in four words.
Curious, confident, ambitious, positive (well, most of the time).
You’ve only been in Oman for six months, but have you managed to get out and explore?
Yes, and the country is so beautiful. Before Oman, I had never been to the desert, so it was an incredible experience to visit Wahiba Sands in December. I have been to Jebel Akhdar twice in the last month and that was both exhilarating and refreshing as the air is so much cooler there. I am now slowly gaining more confidence in driving by myself as I got a car a week ago, so I am eager to explore more.