By Achim Schmitt
Successful hospitality professionals know that the difference between success and failure often depends on how we deal with challenges and difficulties. In fact, this mindset aligns very well with the etymological roots of the word “crisis”. Whereas we generally use the word to describe times of difficulty and distress, the original Greek word “krísis” described “decisions”, significant “turning points” for better or worse, and/or a “decisive stage” in the context of a decision-making. Hence, what are the “turning points” and “insights” that we, as institutions of higher education, are currently experiencing during the pandemic? In fact, institutions of higher education have been significantly impacted, both domestically and internationally, by Covid-19. Based on an education model that attracts international students and fosters student mobility, universities have started to reflect on the long-term implications of Covid-19. Here are five insights to stimulate thought and reflection on how the hospitality education sector can successfully evolve from it.
Insight #1: Solidarity and sharing
In the face of uncertainty in hospitality and tourism’s future economic performance, the demand for insights from educational services and higher education has increased rapidly during the past months. Some academic institutions have been very quick and proactive in distributing knowledge and training to respond to this demand. For instance, the Florida Atlantic University, among others, has launched a series of free online certificates to help hospitality professionals that have been made unemployed or face reduced workload. Webinars, panels and leadership insights have been popping up like mushrooms during the past weeks. Based on our history and values, EHL also did not hesitate in providing free hospitality insights and know-how to the industry under these specific circumstances. Given that EHL’s leadership team had decided to invest in an online education portfolio in 2017, we were very well prepared to respond quickly to an increased need for educational services and could provide the industry with qualitative online course material immediately.
Solidarity and sharing are unique characteristics of the hospitality industry. Hospitality professionals and educators are passionate to serve customer needs. With an increased spirit of solidarity towards those needs, educational institutions have been providing help, advice and insights during the pandemic. It is something that we as an industry can be proud of and that spurs confidence when looking forward. Our educational models are judged by those who need them. The high demand for these resources during the past months emphasizes the importance and critical role of academic institutions in the future. Listening to the industry and customizing the educational offer to changing market demands will become one key element in shaping the future of the hospitality education sector around the world.
Insight #2: The trend towards individualization
Hospitality graduates know that after an economic downturn their own future job prospects depend on how well they are qualified compared to others looking for fewer available jobs. In these market conditions, our industry needs to have flexible programs that allow to respond to the specific educational needs of the individual, providing an edge for students when they return to a post-downturn job market.
But this individualization of the educational portfolio is a trend that has been ongoing for over 5 years now, (for example, EHL’s program portfolio of short-term certificates). Hospitality experts need flexible and relevant course topics that complement their own level of expertise. This trend will continue in the future and highlights the fact that hospitality educators need to also become facilitators and coaches for their students. Actually, the pandemic and its consequences have not created a new trend of online education, but rather accelerated its implementation.
Insight #3: Reconceptualization of the academic curriculum
One particular insight of the pandemic relates to the fact that self-isolation, social distancing, working from home and communicating in the virtual space do not come naturally to professionals in various industries. Managing virtual teams, improving communication skills, as well as building mental and emotional strengths are aspects that can and should be included when building future skills and competences. Resilience and character are key components of our industry, and deserve to be further accentuated in certain curricula.
Overall, the pandemic has triggered a great opportunity to reinvent not only curricula but how we deliver them. Here, the mix of online and physical components becomes critical. While there are multiple ideas and possibilities for online education, it also has its limitations. Social exchanges, networking and certain vocational training components can only be transferred into the virtual world in part. Future success models will be based on a well-balanced and identified portfolio of physical and online components. These blended models can and will reap the benefits of both worlds.
Insight #4: Proximity to the hotel sector
The post-Covid-19 period for the hotel industry will be a balancing act between dealing with uncertain revenues and an adequate cost structure. In particular, the way in which operational costs are managed will become critical for the overall hotel performance, highlighting the importance of flexibility and creativity. Cost-sharing models and collaboration between hotels might provide possible short-term solutions for certain hotels. In addition, the pandemic is projected to negatively influence the ease of travel in the future. Domestic markets will recover first and hence, hotel concepts must respond to the needs of local rather than international travelers. Here, proximity to guests will become an important element and a question of direct versus indirect booking via OTAs might arise.
However, innovation, creativity and service agility are not only critical for the sector’s recovery but represent an opportunity for authenticity and unique guest experiences in the industry. How to foster a creative mindset, customer empathy and flexible work processes will be questions that Master and Executive education programs need to answer in the future. A continuation and strengthening of the integration of industry professionals in the education experience is a promising approach which ties in well with keeping up with the rapid changes in the hospitality and service industry.
Insight #5: There is not only growth!
For a long time, the hospitality and tourism industry could have been characterized as a global growth industry. Growth markets allow for international expansion, the attraction of talent and investment, as well as standardization. The asset-light model was an excellent business concept to leverage these growth opportunities. The pandemic has made the industry aware that there are certain limitations to this growth model.
Such awareness can be very fruitful as maturing, declining market conditions are excellent platforms for business model innovation and creativity. It is a unique chance to ask whether the current business portfolio is adapted to future travel needs, increased safety regulations and growing environmental concerns. Here, digital components will play a key role in the future, allowing for a virtual closer proximity to the customer and an increase in the service experience for guests. Authenticity, technology and creativity will become important competitive aspects that will shape and influence future hospitality concepts. Hospitality educators need to find new and creative ways of responding to these trends. It raises questions of whether a current course catalogue is still aligned with these realities.
The way forward
The pandemic has hit our sector and industry substantially. We are still dealing with its consequences on various levels in the private and professional sphere. From an educational perspective, the pandemic allows us to revise certain administrative and bureaucratic processes within our educational programs. Multiple institutions have shifted their educational offer from the physical space into a distance-learning format in record time – proof of how the educational system can evolve. With Covid-19 acting as a trigger for change in our educational model for more individualization, flexibility and global reach, we can now return to the original meaning of “crisis” as a turning point for better hospitality educational models in the future.