With FIFA World Cup 2022 and Vision Qatar 2030 in the pipeline, the FM and cleaning industries in the country are gearing up to deal with the massive infrastructural changes and the local challenges associated with the industry in the country.
Just a few days ago, Qatar – the country that won the bid to host FIFA World Cup 2022 against USA – revealed its stunning design for the stadium in which the matches leading to the finale would be played. With the deconstruction of the old Al Rayyan Stadium having just been completed in March 2015, work on the new stadium, inspired by sand dunes, is in full swing!
Over the years, post Qatar winning the bid, the proliferation of real-estate development in the form of residential complexes, malls and even hotels has been noteworthy. In fact, just last year the Qatar Economic Outlook stated that the country’s GDP is set to grow 7.8 per cent this year from 6.3 per cent in 2014. And, the key to this growth is the construction industry, a direct impact of which is seen on the facilities management (FM) and cleaning industry. Clean Middle East and FM today magazines organised the first ever cleaning and FM roundtable in Doha last month to bring to the table how this industry is addressing the demand for FM and cleaning, the challenges, and the market as a result of the increasing development.
MEETING THE DEMANDS
With the growing industry, FM and cleaning companies across Doha seem to be aware of the increasing demand for their services at least for the next few years. But, how many of them are ready to meet these demands? According to Gil Flororita, Head of Property and Facilities Management, DTZ, Qatar, “Steady development of both commercial and residential properties in Qatar, especially the master planned areas, relates to the enormous business growth potential for the FM industry. Iconic developments of both The Pearl and Lusail together with all the various 2022 projects mandates the lucrative market for the industry. We believe that in the next three to five years, there will be an imminent upward trend for quality Facilities Management service delivery requirement compared to a flat trend in same period in the past.”
Joseph Mcmullan, Head of Operations, OCS, on the other hand, said, “I think the FM industry is ready for the growth, but I don’t believe that these companies will be incorporated very well. One of the biggest challenges to this is that we get very short-term contracts of one or two years, which limits our ability to maximise our investment. That’s how the industry is.” He goes on to mention that clients prefer to change their FM contractors consistently instead of sticking to long-term contracts. In fact, they do not look at FM companies as partners who can benefit them. As a result, the degradation of their assets is huge. Mcmullan added, “Knowledge of the industry has to be used well. And while we all are confident of the growth, we need to remember that we have over 150 supposed FM companies across Doha.
Barry Clarke, General Manager, Macro Qatar & Macro Saudi Arabia, concurred, “There don’t seem to be any Total Facilities Management (TFM) companies; there are a few Integrated Facilities Management (IFM) companies in Qatar and hundreds of single service companies, the quality of which vary.” However, he too believes that there is going to be a massive growth of projects in the market and is ready for it. “But,” says Clarke, “We will reach a saturation point capacity wise. More forward-thinking companies will grab the cream of the crop just by being first, and the less informed companies will be found wanting.”
QUALITY SERVICES AND STAFF
The panel felt that there has been a cultural change in Qatar over the years. In fact, 20-25 years ago, FM was not recognised as an industry, and people in the industry have worked hard to get a position equivalent to that of an external contractor. The panel felt that this is the acceptance that Qatar needs to make before they begin to address the lack of TFM or IFM suppliers and the massive glut of single-service providers with busloads of staff. Barry revealed that apart from the scattered FM companies, far too much of the business in the Qatar market is pocket-to-pocket – in the sense that an investor of a development will use his own design firm, construction firm, real-estate firm, etc. He said, “In fact, 50-60 per cent of the contracts work on this model. This is a cycle that ensures that quality doesn’t improve because there is no real impetus to do so, and doing so will mean investing in the quality of products, training and staff. But, this will come through closer to the World Cup.”
The flood of unskilled and cheap labour seems to be one of the biggest challenges in the cleaning and FM industry in Qatar. Several companies hire busloads of staff; but despite their large numbers, the roundtable panelists concurred that the quality of cleaning and maintenance continues to deteriorate in Qatar. “Quality starts with the quality of staff and management and the resistance to change,” informed
Natalie Clark, Country Manager, Reza Hygiene. She added, “We can train the staff in chemicals and innovative techniques that save time; we can give demonstrations and show figures on paper, but in the end they still don’t get it. They don’t understand quality services or the need for them!”
Adnan Haider, Housekeeping Manager, Grand Hyatt Qatar, agreed, “We also depend on outsourced staff, which is very cost-effective, but when it comes to providing authentic hospitality, they are not even close. Especially when it comes to dealing with our guests, I would give our in-house staff the opportunity. Although we treat them in the same way, provide quality training, we pay more to rectify their damages to hotel products like floor, carpeting, etc.”
Alan MacMillan, General Manager, MMG FM Qatar, said, “We train all our staff in customer-service related topics and a comprehensive range of technical subjects. With an important focus on English language development, MMG has found that the staff can absorb more information, which has a positive impact on enhancing and developing our staff’s skill sets. It also allows the business to measure clearly the positive impact this has and the return on the investment made by MMG.” Brian Prystupa, Division Manager, Reza Health Tec, relating his experiences, said, “We’ve found that many customers have staff with limited skills and experience, requiring us to go the extra mile to implement new cleaning and FM programmes. In fact, most customers seem to expect that extra effort.” He added, “It was only when a significant challenge or costly problem emerged that customers sat up and took notice of us. Those moments, when an expert service provider and quick response was really needed, were when we were able to prove our value to the facility management. As time passed, and a wide variety of challenges were met, and problems solved, our relationship grew and trust was established. You should know that many of these ‘challenges and problems’ were not the type that would normally be considered ‘our responsibility’ as cleaning and FM service providers.”
Prystupa also confided that the company was often expected to go well beyond its comfort zone in integrating with customer operations and management. Whether hospitals or airports, supermarkets or food manufacturers, the company was often asked the same question, “If you don’t fix it, then who will?” With that challenge, a true partnership was formed, based on trust, hard work, and mutual respect – know that these are lasting partnerships. Prystupa concluded that over time, the many challenges and problems pushed the company to grow, to become skilled and knowledgeable beyond its own expectations. And, the customers have shaped, developed, and made the company the reliable partners it always wanted to be.
CONTRACTS, PROCUREMENT AND PAYMENT
However, the panel felt, short-term contracts don’t offer incentive to set up a training school or centre of excellence and drive quality standards because such contracts don’t offer much bandwidth for companies to invest in this. Taking over from where he left off with short-term contracts, Mcmullan said that while it may have taken Dubai 25 years to reach where it is in terms of a quality market with strict regulations, Qatar doesn’t necessarily need to follow suit in terms of the time it will take to reach Dubai standards. He said, “We have advanced machinery, and short-term contracts do not ensure that these have a good ROI. Moreover, the number of payment terms, half of which are not met, is a handicap as well. While the culture needs to change, it can only be done if we can bypass the mediocre middlemen and get to the client who is the actual decision maker. We need clients to realise that their building is an asset and if not looked after properly will degrade and become a cost rather than a benefit to them.”
Natalie said, “Qatar is a huge market with massive potential, and I haven’t even scratched the surface here. Here, from our experience, if you provide good quality services you don’t have to be the cheapest. And if you have the right connections and you deliver what you said you will deliver, it becomes a win-win situation. Slowly, people will start to hear about you and appreciate the quality and service you offer, and they don’t mind paying a little extra if they know what they are going to get in return.”
The laws for recruitment are also limiting – Barry finds that hiring staff from certain countries is banned in Qatar. Moreover, staff doesn’t receive NOCs from the sponsors preventing from working anywhere else in Qatar. However, he agreed that abolishing the lack of NOCs might work in part, but not for the entire industry since there are too many other limiting facets.
For instance, procurement – the panel felt that there are a few global brands that are tied up with just certain distributors. Jayendra Tripathi, Project Manager, Zon Healthcare Consulting, who consults for American Hospital Qatar, agreed. He said, “In healthcare, sourcing equipment has been a huge challenge. The market is monopolistic where one company takes the shots. It is upon as to then reach the owners and convince them to take the right decision. Moreover, here we have to depend on one supplier/distributor and suffer a lag period of six to eight months for the most for the most basic equipment – whether medical or FM related.
THE WORLD CUP IMPACT
So, what about the impact of the World Cup on the industry? The global event has certainly created a lot of buzz across the country. In fact, almost 35,000 rooms are expected to be built for the event. However, the outlook seems more bleak than bright. Haider from Grand Hyatt said that the hotel industry is gearing up for the event – with several new projects in the pipeline. “But the sentiment of the table continues in our market as well; what is going to happen after the World Cup? Hotels as such will not be affected so much as they will have their own staff to run the operation but the most worrying aspect is about what will happen to the extra number of rooms that are being built for the event?” he enquired.
Mcmullan agreed, “The World Cup will be held in a four-week period. And, we have massive infrastructure changes just for this short period. With the level of cleaning and FM services, these buildings won’t be in a fit state to host people post the event. The 2030 vision for Qatar has a longer term outlook for the country, but the infrastructure and lack of commitment to use professional FM companies will see a progressive degradation of buildings. This will only limit the focus on sustainability and being environmentally friendly. Knocking buildings down and rebuilding them is not the answer - building proper and fit environments with the right materials and then looking after them (FM steps up to the mark here) long term is a far better choice for the country.”
Despite the several challenges, there is immense hope for the growth of the FM and cleaning industry in Qatar. As Flororita from DTZ said, “When we talk about the market in Qatar, the sheer volume of the number of people as well as upcoming supply of new stock comes into my mind. Having said that, I feel there is definitely space for ‘credible’ new players in the market especially in the facilities management industry.”
Barry added, “New players must understand that the Qatar market is different from any other market in the Middle East. In fact, when we entered in 2010, it took us a good three and half years to be accepted at the wider market price, and now people are willing to work with us. The reality is that most Qataris are fed up with companies that come to make a quick profit and leave. They now want to see stability, so they wait for two or three years – within that time, the new companies will either wait and see it through or feel the heat and leave. Flororita concluded by saying that the growth in the FM industry is going to be based on timing of delivery of all assets to be maintained. “At this point, all is gearing up to pre 2022 and 2030, FIFA and Qatar Vision preparations respectively, he said.