By Mudassir Raja
He is very impressed by the dining options available in Doha and likes the upscale restaurants here. He sees a brighter future for Qatar’s diverse hospitality scene.
Dr Ivan Ninov, Executive Dean at Stenden Qatar University (SQU) of Applied Sciences, is full of praise for the continuous growth and future prospects of the hospitality industry in Qatar as he has been heading one of the premier higher education providers of hospitality management, tourism management, and business management in Qatar for over three years.
Dr Ivan holds a PhD degree in Hospitality Administration from Texas Tech University in the US and a Master of Science degree in Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management from the same institution. He carries extensive industry and academic knowledge, combined with successful international and regional experience. He has also worked for Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai as an Assistant Dean.
Community recently caught up with the dean and interviewed him about his professional career, the contributions that the university has been making so far and his understanding of the hospitality industry in Qatar.
Originally from Bulgaria, Dr Ivan has been living abroad for over 20 years. He cherished talking about his childhood in predominantly agricultural Bulgaria. “My childhood was very eventful in Bulgaria. It was very safe and quiet to be there in childhood. I used to be a very good basketball player in my school. When I was in my high school, I was kind of fascinated with a very old building housing a hotel, close to my school. I wanted to study about this. At that time, we did not have hotel management education at the university level so I got the degree in International Tourism. I did my internship with a well-known hotel in my country.
“I liked the hospitality industry and I decided to make it my career. Then I went to the US and did my Masters in restaurant and hotel management. I started working with a company and they offered me to do PhD in Hospitality Administration in 2001. At the same time, I was teaching the course of food and beverage management. I really enjoyed teaching young people. I decided to make academia as my career. I have always been having a certain kind of rewarding feelings. In 2005, I moved to UAE and it was in 2016 that I moved to Stenden in Qatar.”
Talking about his family, the dean said: “I have one sister. I got married in 2013. Both of my parents were medical doctors. My father was a surgeon and my mother a paediatrician. They always wanted both of us to become doctors. My sister is a lawyer. My mother now pushes our children to become doctors. I have two kids.”
It was in January 2016 when Dr Ivan found himself in Doha after he joined Stenden University. He finds the education facility quite attractive. “Stenden is a very unique university in Doha. We are the oldest private university. Next year, we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary. So far, we have graduated around 700 students. Some of them have been working in very good key positions.
“We are the only Dutch university in GCC. We are the only international campus that offers five different programmes – international hospitality management, tourism management, and international business for bachelors’ degree. From last September, we introduced two master programmes — international leisure, tourism, and event management and international hospitality and service management.
“Apart from the academic courses, we offer special short course for the industry in Qatar. We have planned different short courses. We offer courses both for companies and individual professionals.”
The dean appreciates the promotion and development of the hospitality and tourism sectors in Qatar. “The development of the tourism and hospitality sectors is one of the strategic objectives of the country. There is a lot of investment in these two sectors. In terms of facilitates, Doha has a lot to offer. We have more than 50 five-star hotels here. Some of them are upscale luxury hotels. There is a lot more under development.
“We (the university) have very close relations with these hotels. All our students go for practical training. Currently, there are some challenges due to the unjust blockade. There used to be a good market from the GCC. However, I think this market has been replaced with other markets. Qatar has opened up to the world. The country has been trying to develop a lot of cruise tourism. They are expecting them in big numbers. They are also developing different tourism attractions. I think the effect from the blockade was shortlived. The country has kind of found ways to work around. Qatar has always been very creative in how they do things. I think slowly with more marketing and promotion, Qatar will see a rise in the number of visitors. We should not diminish the importance of the fact that Qatar is becoming a big stop-over destination. There are very attractive deals.”
Dr Ivan has been working on different projects in the university to contribute to the tourism sector in Qatar. “There have been lots of developments here in the last three years. First of all, in 2017, we applied for international accreditation for the hospitality and tourism programmes from International Sector of Excellence in Hospitality and Tourism Education, which is the most reputable accrediting body worldwide based in Australia. Our tourism programme is the only internally accredited programme in whole Mena region.
“In 2016, we created a high level of advisory board for the university which consists of heads and CEOs of 10 biggest organisations in Doha. In October 2017, the university was added to the list of the government support universities. We are the only private institution in the list. Last year, we got two new masters programmes licensed. Further, we are the only private university in Qatar that offers its own degree. We are really focused on the quality of the courses we offer. We also plan to introduce new courses in media and maritime studies.
“About 20 percent of our students are Qataris at the moment. We are trying to increase the percentage. I see a lot of interest in our international business degree. It is not easy to make progress in Stenden. It is one of the most challenging universities to graduate from. We have very rigorous criteria and admission requirements. The graduates of Stenden are very good. A very high percentage of our graduates get good jobs.”
The dean is fully aware of the upcoming opportunities and possible growth in the tourism sector in Qatar. He has his eyes on the FIFA World Cup 2022. “We want to extend our portfolio. We will introduce newer courses. We are also planning to move to a new facility in two to three years. We already have the land.”
Dr Ivan also shared his expert views on hospitality scenes in different areas of the world. He sees more similarities than differences at the international hospitality scenes. “With the globalisation, things are becoming more or less similar, though still there are some differences. With standardisation, you can see hotels having similar properties in different countries. They have to follow the same standards. There is a lot of standardisation but still you can find differences between markets. For example, in the US, they are very pragmatic. In GCC, you will find a different level of luxury that is upscale.
“Doha has developed very quickly. It is very diverse. The main hotel companies are in Doha. But, what I have personally found interesting about the market here is, from the hospitality prospective, to have really nice upscale restaurants. I am actually impressed by the dining options here. There are so many options for everyone. The dining options here are very unique, especially the fine dining.”
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