Nurturing Hospitality: An Interview with Shaikh Khaled bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, General Director, Vatel Bahrain


Behind every successful education innovation is a problem-solving leader. From supporting their staff and inspiring a positive culture to envisioning the best outcomes for students – education leaders are at the core of creating enriching learning experiences. As part of Gulf Insider’s Excellence in Education Leadership series, we converse with Bahrain’s leading educators, highlighting their stories, their impact, and the steps they have taken to improve the quality of education for students in the Kingdom.

How would you describe the role of an education leader?

An education leader assumes a pivotal role in shaping and guiding the direction and effectiveness of an educational institution. The leader is responsible for establishing a strategic vision, setting clear objectives, and implementing policies and initiatives that promote quality education and positive learning outcomes. In my opinion, the leader of an institution is expected to be an enabler and possess a solid skill to balance.

It is a balancing act; fulfilling educational requirements by providing a safe learning space for learners and staff, while tending to the business side of things by meeting expectations of policymakers and regulators. I find this role very satisfying; I sleep happy knowing my work contributes to students’ success, while contributing to the growth of the national tourism sector.

What, in your opinion, is the key to providing enriching learning experiences to students?

All higher education institutions should serve as a platform to help students engage with the community; extra-curricular and co-curricular activities play a key role in shaping students. They provide opportunities for students to explore their passions, build networks, and develop their soft skills.

At Vatel, the practical application of knowledge and skills is essential for enriching students’ learning experiences. We achieve this by establishing real-world relevance, enabling students to understand how their learning connects to real-world contexts by providing examples, case studies, and stories that illustrate the practical applications of the concepts they are studying and facilitating experiential opportunities.

It is achieved by arranging internships, externships, or partnerships with local, regional and international properties and businesses in relevant fields to provide students with practical experiences. This enables them to see first-hand how their learning translates into real-world settings.

What are some of the innovations at your institution that promote quality education?

Our Bachelor’s and MBA programmes in International Hotel Management adopt the apprenticeship model. It’s a unique model in Bahrain, however, it’s immensely necessary to the profession. Students are encouraged to engage with the industry and get hands-on experience from their foundation year. From grooming and dress code to punctuality, we follow industry standards around the campus.

Lecturers bring with them a wealth of experiences from the field. They enrich classroom engagement and the learning journey of the students. At Vatel Bahrain, the local context is embedded into the learning experience. Students explore the local culture, history, and economy along with food and beverages in Bahrain and the MENA region.

In their first semester, students receive a mix of theory and practical lessons while working in partner hotels and luxury establishments. During their second semester, they embark on a 4-5-month internship. In the last two years of their course, students venture outside of Bahrain for their internships to gain international experiences, explore different cultures, immerse in various work environments, and become more proficient in the French language.

Students of Vatel engage in key events such as the Bahrain Grand Prix, the International Air Show, Jewellery Arabia, and more. By the time they graduate, students will have gained two years of experience in the hospitality industry. About half of them secure their jobs before graduating and around 78 percent are employed within six months of their graduation.

Technology and AI are changing the world. How are they changing education?

The field of education is undergoing significant transformation due to the influence of technology and AI. These advancements are revolutionising the learning process, teaching methods, and the overall functioning of educational providers. We would primarily rely on the unparalleled access to information and resources that technology provides.

Students can easily search for information, access online libraries, and engage in virtual learning experiences, allowing them to explore various subjects and perspectives beyond traditional classroom resources. Moreover, data-driven insights are crucial for our field. AI and data analytics tools help educators analyse large volumes of student data, identifying patterns, trends, and areas for improvement. This data-driven approach informs instructional decisions, facilitates early intervention for students who seem to be struggling, and enhances educational outcomes.

Can you describe a recent student success story from your institution?

It is very difficult to single out a single graduate, I am extremely proud of all of them! The story of Hamad Bahlool is heartwarming. He is a hotelier at heart, has a very driven personality and is very resilient. I witnessed him face numerous challenges, but they didn’t stop him. He persevered and insisted on continuing his studies till the day he completed his Bachelor’s at Vatel. It was wonderful to see him receive multiple job offers upon graduation. He is doing well in one of the top 5-star international hotels in Bahrain.

What was the best thing that happened to you when you were a student?

I will have to say the support I received as a student. It is easy to assume that the only support a student receives is out of school… at home usually. However, I have experienced wonderful support from the teaching and non-teaching staff working in my school, and in my college days too. Support can help relieve a lot of the stress a student feels and ensures whatever the issue, it can be resolved smoothly. I advise every student to reach out to the student support staff for any issues they face, no matter how small. Leaving matters to the final hours always works against the student.

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