© Vernon Coelho, 2020

Challenges in creating Hospitality Managers

Visualise this. A class full of students were asked: Would you opt for hospitality as a career? I bet most would enthusiastically reply affirmatively. Put another question: Do you know what it really takes to be a part of it? Well... Now that’s a very difficult question to pose, as the nature of the industry is such. It changes and progresses at such a fast rate that I would not be wrong when I say that “the only thing constant is change”.

Earlier, all those who associated with this industry, were mostly descendants who were believed to have inherited the typical characteristics required to be a part of hospitality, be it chefs or stewards. The next stage was the emergence of various institutions – called catering colleges which are more popular today as “hotel management institutes” – in different parts of the country with the aim of producing skilled manpower for this industry.

These institutes offered individuals knowledge, skills, concepts and techniques in the right environment to emerge as hospitality service providers. The course mainly concentrated on subjects related to the core departments of the hotel viz. food production, food and beverage service, accommodation operations and front office operations. Focus was on the technical aspects and students pursuing the course were taught the what, how and why of various operations.

Then came a stage wherein hoteliers were desperately struggling with the cut-throat competition in the industry. This was the most challenging period for those working in the hospitality, travel and tourism industries. It was this stage which made hospitality professionals realise that they must be capable of dealing effectively with a variety of situations and problems, be able to perform above expectations especially under the most stressful conditions and be able to relate to all kinds of people. In short, the education system had to undergo major changes to make future hospitality professionals compatible with these demanding situations.

The education system

At present students are given education and training in narrowly defined capsules of knowledge; these can be specific courses in a hospitality curriculum or specific training programmes. What often happens is that the learner digests the information in order to earn the appropriate reward for going through this experience (usually a grade, certificate or a degree). Unfortunately, this knowledge is not always transferred and/or combined with other capsules of knowledge when it comes to putting it to work in a real world situation.

So who is to blame for this? Not the learner for sure, as the fault, most likely, is in the learning process being used. Educators and trainers reward individuals for mastering a unit of knowledge but do not reward them as effectively for demonstrating the successful transfer of that knowledge to a new setting. This must change, since adding value requires that the future manager understands operations like finance, marketing, the business environment and leadership, and can bring these functional areas together to make the most effective investment decisions.

Realising the shortcomings

The above scenario made institutes realise that just information in the core departments was not enough to sustain growth in this industry. Including business subjects like marketing, human resources, financial accounting, management accounting, strategic management and business law was equally essential. Realising this, the institutes began to change their thinking by teaching students to be multifunctional managers where the learning process begins with making decisions and then adding the necessary functional expertise.

This change in the attitude of the institutes resulted in producing quality manpower for the hospitality and allied industries. Hoteliers started to view hospitality students as potential candidates for their respective operation. This led to a rise in the number of hospitality companies flocking to the institutes to conduct campus interviews. They looked for students with excellent technical knowledge and believed that if their basics were clear they were more likely to do well with the hotel.

Change in hospitality trade and approach

Of late, hospitality has become a booming industry and it is not restricted to hotels only. It has become a more broad term and now includes a plethora of services. This is great news for hospitality aspirants as they now have options galore. In fact, the allied companies and other service providers are now looking at hospitality students as prominent human resources for their companies. The challenge now for hospitality institutes is to supply the right quality of human resources to keep pace with the demand, and offer the industry a vast variety to choose from.

Competition is getting fierce, especially with a number of multinationals entering the Indian hospitality market. Hotels and other service providers are now looking for managers who are visionaries, who are creative and can smell opportunities – even in threats – and are capable of applying competitive methods that will lead the organisation into advantage over its present and future competition. Besides just having technical knowledge, the industry wants their future managers to think ahead of the competition. They want students who not only know how to be effective “knowledge workers” but also how to interact with those who will be owning and managing that knowledge.

Meeting the challenges

In his book, “Strategic Management in the Hospitality Industry”, Micheal Olsen suggests several important differences in the skill and capability inventory of tomorrow’s hospitality manager compared to what has been considered important in the past. Historically, skill training focuses on topics like food production, cost control, layout and design, front office management, food and beverage management, catering sales, merchandising and accounting. This body of knowledge reflected the importance of internal operations and pleasing the guest.

Without a doubt, these skills are still very important to the success of today’s hospitality firm. However, while they may have been sufficient for decades, they no longer fully meet the needs of today’s competitive environment. The emphasis must now be on making the hospitality enterprise a viable long-term investment. It means addressing the need for managers to know and understand how to strategically add value in a complex, dynamic business environment.

To meet the requirements discussed earlier, the institutes now are emphasising giving immense technical knowledge along with practical exposure. One cannot deny the fact that no amount of practical input on campus can meet up to the practical inputs one can gain by actually training in the industry. This is where the hotels need to contribute their bit. They need be more open to accepting trainees and willing to share their expertise and knowledge with them rather than considering them a hindrance to their daily work. They must realise that these trainees are the future “value added managers” they are looking for.

An ideal candidate

An ideal candidate needs to be a technologist who knows how to use various machines, equipment, processes, information and ways of doing business. He should have exceptional communication skills, ability to work in a team, and have a thirst for knowledge. In short, the industry is looking for a candidate with the “right attitude”. The industry is craving for multiskilled candidates/managers who can increase profits mainly by cutting and controlling costs.

Qualities of future hospitality managers: