Roundtable: Important for seasoned hoteliers to consider continuing education

This month, we speak to industry experts about continuous learning, staying current in the digital age and what recruiters are looking for in prospective candidates

Human resources, Hospitality jobs

Hotelier Middle East hosts a roundtable comprising industry experts who discuss education, human resources' needs, and what's expected of candidates in the hospitality industry

Do you think it’s important for seasoned hoteliers to take part in continuing education?

Marina Rizzi, Director of Industry Relations and International Office at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management: Continuing education stands to benefit hoteliers of all ages and experience . As the hospitality industry continues to evolve and new technologies or disruptive models become more prevalent, industry professionals should complement their existing skill sets with best practice measures evolved from research. This can be accomplished through either short courses or advanced degrees such as an MBA. The extent of the investment depends on the individual’s overall career aim. In order to stay relevant and competitive, however, it is imperative that professionals do partake in some form of continued education regardless of the number of practical years they have spent working in the industry. Some of these areas of interest, such as emotional intelligence, are better introduced in a secure learning environment, where the application of specific models and theories may be practised through a variety of activities such as role play and mind mappings.

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Mary Redman, Recruitment Manager, Fairmont Dubai: As hoteliers, we should always continue to educate ourselves. Whether we are learning new skills or taking more traditional courses, it is important to remain up-to-date with information, as the hospitality industry is constantly evolving. Therefore, the hotels that stand out by keeping ahead of the curve are consequently the ones that inspire an innovative culture.

Aadil Wazir, Director of Housekeeping, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina: In order to efficiently and effectively keep up with the current market, one must be constantly learning and adapting to the changing industry. Continuous learning and growing is essential, as it provides innovative ways of improving the way in which work is executed, time-saving techniques and overall, contributes to deliver better results.

Alexander Schneider, Vice President at Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts, Europe and Middle East: Absolutely! Creating and sustaining brands that can be differentiated is a current trend, but nothing comes without serious preparation. Personally, I believe that the uninspiring average hotel brand will need to face some major adjustments in order to stay competitive, whereas new quirky and disruptive offerings will thrive in all disciplines like hospitality, gastronomy and even retail. At Nikki Beach, we strive to create refreshing experiences and provide unforeseen facilities. In order to understand how our guests think, you have to understand behaviour and personality traits; hence, continuous education is important.

Yves Bas, F&B Director, Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort: I’m convinced that continuing education is one of the most important things to do in developing your career. As all hoteliers want to grow in the industry, it’s important to cover as many departments as possible. At the end of the day, many of us dream of becoming a general manager at an iconic property or hold a high position in the corporate office of a reputed international company.

What are some of the areas or topics industry professionals should be looking at to brush up their skills?

Marina: The grasp of new technologies for the hospitality industry is always a good investment, but depending on the learning and development culture of the organisation, these kinds of learning opportunities can be provided in-house. Other areas that will continue to remain important include cross-cultural understanding, advanced leadership skills, and personal awareness. These are all soft skills that can be difficult to develop without structured guidance, or the application of techniques, which are necessary for anyone looking to progress in their careers. 

Mary: It is important that we continue to learn about how we can best meet our guests’ needs in order to exceed their expectations. And owing to the rapid movement towards digital transformation in hospitality industry, it is equally important that we keep ourselves educated on everything related to data and technology, be it from a social media perspective or related to SEO and SEM tactics instead.

Aadil: In the current digital age, social media, the internet, new gadgets and innovative tools are setting the pace every few months. With the above listed constantly adapting and altering the way in which things are done, I think industry professionals need to be keeping on top of current technological trends and advances. Other vital skills that industry professionals need to keep current are their communication and proactive leadership skills. What I mean is that as an industry centred on customer service, it is important for people in hospitality to know how to lead a team successfully and resourcefully. 

Alexander: One of the topics that needs continuous study is definitely digital platforms and how guests interact with content. It is great to see that simply by being active, posting the right content on social channels and engaging with guests online can create magic. Another area that deserves close attention is the talent acquisition strategy, which in our case is based on the core values of the brand – hiring passionate talents who are caring, charitable and can inspire people with the brand values. Half of the staff at our resort are millennials and around 80% are Generation Y hired from around the globe with a balanced ratio of fresh hospitality talents. The way we have conducted our talent selection at our resort in Dubai is aimed at creating a pulsating and unique culture that induce an air of creativity in service delivery and this is appealing nowadays to our audiences.

Yves: I think people management is an important skill to look at. We all know that this part of the world has amazing hotels, restaurants and beach clubs with the most fancy interiors and entertainment and finest F&B offers, so guests are already so spoiled. The competition is very tough and every guest counts, therefore it’s so important to stand out in guest relations. Keep the people who work for you happy and be a leader for them so they feel confident in dealing with guests and will do the extra mile. Happy staff create happy guests. 

Do you believe continuing education could be a way for hoteliers to switch up their hospitality career path? Should they rely on in-house education or external courses?

Marina: The advantage of a post-graduate hospitality degree is in its versatility and that it allows the holder to work across quite a wide variety of different service sectors. With the support of an advanced degree, industry professionals can find opportunities in areas such as human resources, revenue management and consultancy. These areas can apply across diverse sectors such as oil and gas, medical, real estate and finance. Although in-house courses may come at a better price point, the risk is that the topics and delivery methods may be steeped in the culture of the organisation in question. Whilst not necessarily negative, the participant doesn’t benefit from the diversity of viewpoints and experiences from other organisational cultures, as they would in an external course. Networking opportunities and relationships established while participating in more time-intensive programmes, such as advanced degrees, are  especially beneficial to career changers.

Mary: Education is a very powerful tool and will be beneficial for hoteliers looking to make a change in their career and will depend on the area or topic as to whether it will be best through in-house options or an external course.

Aadil: I definitely believe that for hoteliers to switch up their hospitality career path, continuing education is fundamental. In my opinion, continuing education should undoubtedly be both in-house education and external courses. It is important to have the mix, as gaining in-house training helps industry professionals keep up to date and aligned with the brands vision and processes, while getting involved in external training also provides hoteliers knowledge on current industry trends and standards.

Alexander: In my opinion, both in-house education and training and external training can be extremely helpful.

Yves: As said before, continuing education is very important. And the only way to grow in the hotel industry is getting to know all departments of your organisation. When you have this total experience, you are able to empathise better with colleagues. The choice of in-house or external education depends on a few factors. First of all, is the company you work for providing in-house training and is it useful for the career development. I think when you work for an international company, you can rely more on in-house training as they tend to invest a lot in developing associates and can bear the costs as it can be used for thousands of people. When you work for a smaller local company, I think you have to be prepared to invest and look on your own for training courses to develop your career. Having worked for both kinds of companies, this  is my personal experience.

As a hotelier or hospitality educator, what do you think new entrants should be equipped with to flourish in today’s hotel market?

Marina: New entrants require some of the same foundation skill sets as seasoned hoteliers in today’s increasingly competitive, global and technology-driven environment. In addition, they require support in areas such as presentation skills, navigating workplace politics, networking and negotiating. The latter two areas are especially relevant for new entrants and may not have been addressed during tertiary study.

Mary: It is important to have a combination of practical skills and education. A key to success is having a strong foundation of education, combined with the practical experience that one can only get through actually working in the hospitality industry. As a recruiter, I always prefer to have candidates who are genuinely interested in the industry and when hiring, we are not only looking at candidates who can fill available positions, but also those who can grow with the company to become our future leaders. Becoming a great hotelier isn’t solely dependent on the fact of having a hotel management degree, therefore often when hiring entry-level employees, we recruit for attitude and train for skills.

Aadil: The most important trait required to flourish in today’s hotel market, is a positive attitude and outlook. A person who embodies an eagerness to learn and a proactive, proper attitude, will be able to succeed in the industry. Of course, having the proper experience or educational background will provide them with an advantage.

Alexander: It is very simple – providing an intuitive and honest service is key. Moreover, this has to be provided time and time again. Also, you have to provide a sense of welcome, a sense of security as well as a sense of surprise.

Yves: Today’s hospitality market is very competitive. I think the first thing that people coming here need to be educated about is an understanding of the local market. The second, which is just as important, is working in a multicultural environment and last, but not the least, is knowing the business figures of your company. It’s not only about driving revenue and looking after operations, but also financial understanding and the ability to be smart and save costs is even more important now. 

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