By Dr. Prashant Das
Although a layman’s perception of hospitality is overwhelmed by the notion of “guest-oriented services”, the scope of hospitality management in India has drastically expanded in recent years. There must be more to an industry with an annual revenue worth $1 trillion and over 8 million employees globally. The share of travel and tourism within the Indian economy is around 10% and steadily growing. More importantly, the industry claims to create nearly 8% employment in India which is expected to grow in the future. Within the next ten years, the hospitality sector will create nearly 70 lakh new jobs directly and nearly 1 crore jobs indirectly.
The statistics mentioned above only reflect the domestic career prospects. There are opportunities that lie beyond. According to Bhavna Bhatia who works with HVS, an international hospitality executive search company, the domestic demand for mid- and senior-level hospitality managers in India has exploded in recent years.
In the past, senior management positions in the Indian hospitality sector were filled with expatriates who would, in turn, train local employees. In recent years, however, not only has the local talent been taking up the domestic leadership positions, but a large volume of hospitality talent groomed in India is being absorbed globally at senior management positions.
Hospitality management: a wider scope
It is a misconception that hospitality management is only about hotels. If you like analogies, think of an astronaut simulating the challenges of space travel while practicing the voyage at remote corners of Hawaii or Antarctica.
Similarly, while services such as guest experience, food & beverage, and lodging lie at the core of the hospitality industry, hospitality managers use these areas as simulation laboratories to acquire the attitude, skills and knowledge that is easily transformable to other industries.
The most rewarding aspect of developing hospitality competencies comes from the fundamental operating attitude: creating a pleasant client experience. In the currents state of affairs where the customer service is increasingly outsourced and gradually being supplanted by artificial intelligence, the “human touch” sets the hospitality managers apart.
As a result, there is a strong appetite for such managers in the MICE (meeting, incentives, conferences and events), wealth management, retail, luxury, auditing, banking, real estate, consulting, luxury and retail sectors –among others- where a manager is often client-faced.
Take Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, for example – the oldest hospitality management school in the world – where nearly half the alumni work in industries beyond hospitality. The trend is strongly reinforcing itself as a much larger proportion of hospitality management graduates tend to pursue their career beyond hospitality. However, the “home” market for hospitality management graduates itself is ripe with opportunities.
An evolving skill set
Hospitality management in India (and globally) seems to be decoupling from the traditional mold of “operations” and is establishing itself as an independent domain of business services. Top-ranked hotel schools in Switzerland and Hong Kong have positioned themselves as specialized business schools and are also helping mainstream business schools with their hospitality-focused programs. In several US universities, hospitality management is already part of the business school's curriculum.
These educational trends are in response to the demands of the industry. For example, international hotel chains now expect their general managers – who have traditionally been focused on operations – to develop real estate competencies so as to maximize their hotel values.
While Indian hospitality professionals are gaining leadership in global companies – especially in areas such as real estate, revenue management, development, and strategy – most of their training in these areas happens at the workplace. Bhavna observes that in the Indian hospitality sector, positions in finance, development, accounting, etc. are mostly filled by resources home-grown within the industry and the trend is gradually picking up in the marketing area.
Schools teaching hospitality management in India who traditionally stressed more on operations are now gradually acknowledging the evolving nature of the industry whereas some new generation schools have already included business competencies within the curriculum.
Traditionally, hospitality management in India has not been the most preferred career path for young management aspirants. As more candidates are picking up this career path as a choice, hotel schools need to do more on developing soft skills and the “spirit for service”, opines Sandeep Kumar, who heads the HR operations in India for catering and facilities management giant Sodexo. As the curriculum enriches on the business front, the gap between business and hospitality-oriented roles in hospitality firms could be filled. Sandeep also points out a new trend of hospitality entrepreneurship among young hospitality managers.
Women have made some of the best hospitality managers in India, says Bhavna, and social and regulatory reshaping across some state governments (Tamilnadu, Haryana, Maharastra, etc.) is helping to further improve the gender gap-related issues. Besides, the hospitality clientele (e.g. hospitals, schools, etc.) are now subtly pushing for superior gender equality in the profession.
What are recruiters looking for?
Graduates of hospitality management in India are increasingly facing the rapid evolution of the industry and must be prepared. At an entry-level, recruiters are looking for hospitality management professionals who have already been exposed to the “real work culture,” says Bhavna and over time, building a specialization is often desirable. Problem-solving, multi-tasking, and technologically-savvy hospitality managers are “resilient enough” to serve in a dynamically changing business environment.
This article first appeared on EducationTimes.com on July 23, 2018.