By Dr. Giuliano Bianchi & Dr. Isabella Blengini
The hospitality industry is becoming increasingly complex, with financial engineering, corporate governance, and strategic interactions with other sectors now part and parcel of daily life. In addition, publicly-traded major hotel chains manage a portfolio of brands and deal with a range of other industries at the same time. Hotels can no longer rely on experience and ‘savoir-faire’ to get by, but need to hire staff who are comfortable with quantitative skills such as mathematics and statistics.
This is why, as economists, we believe hospitality business schools that teach subjects such as finance, need to develop their students’ skills in these areas.
Technology nowadays allows firms to collect and analyze huge amounts of so-called big data, but in order to leverage these opportunities, hotels will need technical abilities and know-how.
However, the biggest challenge faced by teachers of maths and other quantitative skills is how to get the message across to undergraduate students how important such skills will be in their future careers.
Overcoming ‘math anxiety’
“I’ve survived up to this point without solving equations, so why should I start now?” is the typical reaction of many students. Indeed, researcher and academic Mark H. Ashcraft has highlighted the phenomenon of ‘math anxiety’ which he defines as "a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance". Students may be tempted to try to avoid math-based subjects but how can they overcome this in practice?
Based on our experience as economics professors we have developed a survival kit for beginners.
- First, at your very first meeting with students, we recommend that teachers highlight the fact that this topic will be somewhat technical and that, without a rigorous approach, they will not be able to have a deep understanding of the subject.
- Second, when explaining something technical, start from the solution. Clarify what the final point is that you are aiming for and then explain why and how you plan to get there.
A common mistake we make is to try to create some suspense and then surprise the student with a final revelation. What may be ‘suspense’ for you, however, is likely to spell confusion for the student and what you consider to be a final revelation, probably means panic for the student.
We recommend that teachers use plenty of examples from the onset as business school students need practical applications first.
Indeed, they love to be active. They do not want to listen to you passively as you move from one abstract theory to the next. Instead, they need to feel challenged in class.
This can range from doing exercises to case studies and other activities, but the main point is to allow them to play an active rather than passive role. The old fashioned idea that the professor outlines theory in class and that the student is there to absorb it like a sponge and follow up with exercises at home, may be valid only in our wildest dreams.
We also recommend that teachers embrace technology. Give students a virtual portfolio to manage, with apps, surveys, online quizzes and other tools that may appeal to millennials.
Quantitative subjects such as maths and statistics will be increasingly crucial for hoteliers, but when you’re teaching these subjects, they may need to be sugar-coated – more so than other courses – in order to make them more palatable.