Venues best practice: building resource capacities


Venues best practice: building resource capacities

From recruitment to training, Sethu Menon, Dubai World Trade Centre’s Senior Vice President of Venue Operations, examines how best to build resource capacity to deliver truly world-class events

From September to April, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) is a hive of activity, a thriving international venue that welcomes nearly 3.3 million visitors from all four corners of the world.​

As we contribute to the emirate’s continuing transformation and watch it emerge as a leading centre for global trade and as a link to established and emerging markets, managing staffing for these season-bound events is of paramount importance.

Juggling act

It’s not just seasonal demands that put pressure on resources, however. DWTC is extremely diversified in terms of show type, hosting 18 kinds of event every year.

In addition to more than 100 large-scale conferences and exhibitions, we also host banquets, product launches, fashion shows, weddings, meetings, workshops, sporting events and more. These all require diverse resource capabilities including – for example – stewards, serving staff, culinary support and operational resources including cleaners, technical crew and specialist chefs.

Bearing testament to our market-leading status, we also manage five external venues with another three in the pipeline. We cater for 475 offsite events, too, ranging from external trade shows to major sports events, all major additions to our wide-ranging and ever-growing portfolio.

Of course, such huge diversity has its challenges. While one event might require hundreds of staff members, the next – just one week later – might demand only a handful, and the next, hundreds again, creating peaks and troughs and great inconsistency in resource requirements.

We bridge this gap via third-party vendors, tried and trusted partners who are experts in their field and licensed to supply the very best personnel at the drop of a hat. This enables us to recruit the right resources at the right time and meet a show’s requirements both in terms of budget and number of attendees.

Earlier this year, we hosted a lady only gala event, with more than 2,000 attendees. For this themed event we required 450 female personnel, from coffee and chocolate servers to station managers and on-site coordinators. Through the same third-party suppliers, some based in Dubai, others overseas, we were able to meet this very specific staffing requirement.

This flexible business model also provides consistency. When resources are planned well in advance, we can book the same resources to work back-to-back events meaning that time spent training temporary team members– in areas such as etiquette, cultural awareness and food hygiene & safety – is kept to a minimum, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.

Devil in the detail

Because our suppliers handle visa, occupational health card and Emirates ID processing, ensuring all temporary recruits have full and correct documentation, we can hire staff at a moment’s notice.

A few years ago, for example, I was leaving an event at 10.45pm. I took a call on my mobile phone and learned that an extremely high-profile international dignitary would visit the UAE the next day and that DWTC would provide catering for lunch. We needed more than 100 extra external staffing resources, and we needed them quickly, with paperwork in order.

Late at night and with fewer than 10 hours before departure to the lunch location, we gathered both internal and external resources to deliver the very best culinary experience. First, I called the head chef and asked him to plan a menu. What ingredients do we have and, crucially, what’s missing and must be brought in overnight?

From there, we sent kitchen staff to leading 24-hour supermarkets, mostly to buy fresh garnishes and other small items. Then, we began organising stewards, delivery vehicles and event security. By 1am, staff began arriving at the kitchen and by 2am, we conducted a detailed audit. We then gave on-site training to the service staff and carried out rehearsals ahead of the event.

In total, we deployed 60 per cent in-house staff and 40 per cent external, literally brought in at the 11th hour. The lunch was a huge success, our vehicles escorted by high-level security to the venue and the food cooked and served to exceptionally high standards by an outstanding team of professionals.

In all instances, no matter how swiftly a resource is contracted, we insist on proper documentation to ensure compliance.

Game plan

While many events – often those with high-profile visiting officials – land at the last minute, there are many others for which we’re able to plan well in advance.

For these, our resource planning team reviews the calendar 12 to 18 months in advance and decides the most cost-effective way to plan for each. This may involve contacting our global networks to recruit, transport and accommodate extra personnel. In these instances, we will check the visa status of each recruit and decide when best to fly them in.

On arrival, we assign each staff member a dedicated resource manager who stays with that person for the project duration and ensures he or she is closely managed and mentored until the end of the event.

We provide a cultural exposure tour, too, in which new recruits learn about Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. At the end of the assignment we give a city tour with a dhow cruise.

We also seek to sign memorandums of understanding with local universities so that we may hire students for special events, with their consent, and give them industry exposure, as well as payment for out-of-pocket expenses and fees.

Local recruits 

In addition to internships, three years ago, we started an aggressive management-training programme for Emiratis across all business units. The first batch of students has just graduated and, having worked with different departments, they will now manage a dedicated team according to their area of specialisation.

We expect the graduates to play key roles in delivering events around Expo 2020 Dubai and we are confident that they will fill any management resource gaps. It has proven a very successful programme so far with full commitment from the leadership team.

No matter what the nationality, our wish is to bring the faces of the world together. We believe strongly that diversification plays a major role in delivering successful events and that to find the right calibre of person we must undertake a detailed review of their capabilities.

In December 2019, we will host 10,000 guests at a global conference with 150 different nationalities. Then, in October the following year, we will play our role in the much-anticipated Expo 2020 Dubai with more than 180 nationalities on our award-winning team. With our continued focus on training, management and detailed pre-planning, we can, and will, continue to build resource capacities and scalability for world-class events of the highest standard.

Learning the ropes

We categorise our resources by skillset and on-the-job evaluations. These are conducted to classify each person further and to help them progress in their career, even if in a temporary role.

During evaluations, we may see that a member of the service staff has strong managerial skills. We’ll make a note and, the next time he or she works for us, we’ll provide supervisor training. Then, in three to six months, that person could be a station manager depending on his or her level of commitment and accountability.

And, in an effort to bridge the gap between temporary and permanent workers, we run regular team-building sessions between the two sets of staff. We also offer a recognition scheme for temporary resources to ensure they’re continuously motivated and incentivised.

In addition, last year, we started an initiative to attract interns from global technical institutions for a period of six to nine months. This sees environmental science graduates placed into our sustainability team, students from training institutes working with our housekeeping team and university graduates joining the hospitality team, both in service and in culinary. We also welcome engineering graduates.

One Middle Eastern intern, from a regional hotel school, worked with us for five days on an event in Dubai. Out of a batch of 15, she was outstanding. Her communication skills, confidence, attitude and hospitality knowledge really set her aside. After six months, an assistant manager’s vacancy arose and we offered her the position, which she gladly accepted.

She has been very successful in the role and represented DWTC at a major international event. During her annual review, we found that her future lies in sales-based roles and so she has now moved to a key commercial vertical. The future is very much in her hands and she has proven that talented and ambitious individuals who are truly committed to their work can make giant career strides at DWTC.


  • DWTC
  • Venue Operations
  • Events