Sandhya Rao Mehta
Rahma Al-Mahrooqi
Tourism accounts for 6% of the total
investment by the government.
It contributes 3% of the GDP and is aiming to
contribute more than 10% by 2020.
As such, there are 2 colleges of Tourism and
Hospitality, 1 national university and 4
private institutions offering undergraduate
degrees and diplomas.
Tourism as an industry is international in
scope and nature, therefore, requires a good
(fluent) command of the English language.
Language skills for tourism graduates include
cognition, communication, pragmatics and
cultural awareness. These are included in
their curriculum as ESP (English for Specific
This qualitative study is based on semistructured interviews with various stakeholders:
Instructors at Sultan Qaboos University who are
involved with the preparation of teaching
material, final year students and prospective
employers in the industry.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) defined ESP as
“an approach to language teaching in which
all decisions as to content and method are
based on the learner’s reason for learning”.
Jordan (1997) discussed it as the “purposes”
for which the language is learnt.
Streven (1988) underlined the absolute and
variable features of ESP which included its
distinction from General English, and varied
methodology, respectively.
Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998) suggested
that General English needed to remain part of
ESP and that it worked better with adults.
Essentially, it is based on needs (Sujana,
2005; Mackay and Mountford, 1978; Carter,
1983) which the curriculum should examine
(Nunan, 1987; Bridle, 1989; Richard, 2001).
Within the Arab world, ESP has been
investigated for its effective inclusion in the
curriculum (Al Khatib, 2005), to develop
competence in skills such as letter writing
(Afzali and Fakharzadeh, 2009) and
communicative competence (Ibrahim, 2009).
In Oman, the vocation of tourism has been
explored from the point of view of women in the
workforce (Al Lamki, 2000) and the perception of
students to working in the sector (Bontenbal and
Aziz, 2014). The language of tourism discourse
has also been explored for its corpus (Tuzlokova
and Al-Mahrooqi, 2010).
However, there has been no sustained study on
the English language proficiency of tourism
undergraduates joining the workforce.
Luka suggests that competence based approach
coupled with student centred curriculum would
best be suited for the tourism sector since it
requires competence in language as well as
associated skills: “ Such a model may be used in
tourism studies…as its aim is to educate
creative, knowledgeable specialists with a good
command of several foreign languages, who are
able to make decisions and work observing
traditions of different cultures” (Luka, 2004, p.
Students at Sultan Qaboos University spend five
years in an undergraduate program (one noncredit, foundation year and eight semesters).
Following non-credit English courses, they
complete two credit courses of six hours a week
for 15 weeks. Until the 2010 cohort, students
completed 3 such credit courses.
These English courses are completed in the first
year of their degree, after which they have
content courses (which are taught in English).
How many years have you been learning English?
How many years ago did you do your last English Language course?
Please describe the content areas which you studied in your Tourism
Language course. (Please give us examples of some topics of discussion,
areas covered and/or places studied).
What areas of skills did you focus on in the two courses (Reading, Writing,
Listening, Speaking)?
Do you think that the English for Tourism courses which you studied helped
you enough to cope with the content tourism courses which you are doing
Which were the language areas (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking) which
you practiced most in English for Tourism courses?
Which were the areas (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking) which you did
not practice sufficiently?
If you were to do the language courses again, what would you like seen
added to them?
Would you like to have another English Language course added?
Do you have any suggestions about how the English Language courses could
be improved to make them more useful and relevant for your studies in
tourism and your work after graduation?
What is the main context within which English is
taught to students of tourism?
What are the assumptions behind the creation of
the in-house publication?
What are some of the strategies used to teach
English, as seen in these books?
What are some of the limitations, as seen by you,
in the teaching of English to Omani tourism
students in the present context?
What recommendations can you give us
regarding the duration/content or methodology
used in English for Tourism courses?
How satisfied are you with the English Language
skills of the tourism graduates who come to work
with you?
How satisfied are you with other aspects of
Language skill (such as communicative skills,
intercultural skills) of these graduates?
Please comment on the graduates’ writing and
reading abilities.
Please comment on the graduates’ speaking and
listening abilities.
What skills do you see lacking (or less of) in these
students and what would be your
recommendations to solve these situations?
Students were largely positive about the number
and length of the English courses which they had
1. “Our courses (content courses) are in English, so
we have a lot of practice.”
2. “It give us a chance to present about a place in
the world.”
3. “I liked seeing videos of different places.”
Overall, they asked for more speaking
Both courses use English for International
Tourism (Longman) and supplement it with
in-house material which is more culturally
The textbook is Western-centric (common
names used are Annette, Louisa, Smith and
common destinations include Paris and New
Both persons interviewed (from a travel
agency and a restaurant) agreed that SQU
graduates were better equipped, linguistically
than those from other institutions.
However, both had observations which
pointed to many limitations among the new
Differences exist in terms of:
1. The number of courses taught.
2. The speaking component.
3. Sociolinguistic competence among
4. The western orientation of the material
and other input.
5. Limitations of the declarative knowledge
(letter writing, memos, e-mail language,
telephone speech and real world
Include an additional course in English
Language in the final year (either semester).
Create additional real world opportunities
for interaction with English speakers.
Allow for more project based learning.
Invite personnel from associated industries
and different nationalities to interact with
Offer opportunities of re-training from time
to time.
For the tourism industry in Oman to prosper,
the focus on multiple stakeholders in
Focus should be on the development of
multiple linguistic skills and continuous
needs analysis in this rapidly changing

An Assessment of Linguistic Competence among Tourism