By Sherif Mamdouh
A version of this article was previously published on Bilan.ch
Deserted airports, lists of countries not to visit, historically low occupancy rates for hotels, unable to crawl back beyond the 10% mark. Unsettling tales abound, and for good reason: we’re facing a violent reality made of layoffs, financial distress, bankruptcies and uncertainty. In this most worrying context, solidarity and compassion must be shown towards the thousands of employees pushed into precarious situations.
After this time of empathic reflection, the tourism industry must reflect on its own existential situation.What is really going on? Where are we going? Is it sheer madness to embark today, at a time when the hotel industry seems to be collapsing, on studies in Hospitality Management?
In fact, the real question is: “Has there ever been a better time in the history of the hospitality industry to start studying management?”
There is every reason to believe that future graduates, who will be leaving school in 3-4 years, will be better equipped than their predecessors and that the field will be free to create, reinvent, discover and be the proud pioneers of a new tourism, a new hospitality industry, into which a greater ecological awareness and a far greater ability to adapt will have been instilled.
Ines Blal, Executive Dean of Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), takes stock of the situation: “Another difficult year for the “classic” hotel and restaurant industry, which requires the presence of both the client and the service provider.”
Blal continues, “Differences in recovery are to be expected between regions and establishments. Some regions will restart earlier, such as Singapore, where our third campus has recently opened. There will be differences in the speed of recovery between types of hotels (i.e. serviced apartments or individual rentals, compared to offers where more customers are grouped together). Also, unfortunately, only those establishments with sufficient cash and capital to get through the crisis will survive. We must therefore anticipate a change in the supply environment in the sector.”
The same goes for Alexia Lepage, Marketing and Communications Director for IHG in Switzerland (InterContinental Hotel Group) in Geneva, for whom the hotel industry “is certainly experiencing its greatest crisis, which will not allow certain players to recover”.
She explains: “If we have to face the harsh reality of the likely disappearance of several players, the industry itself will not disappear. The human being is a social being who needs to exchange and connect. The world of travel and hospitality still has many years ahead of it, but codes of practice and demands will certainly change, such as cancelling without penalty and expecting a hotel to be more of a multi-service residence.”
The race to adapt
The rebound of the sector will likely occur in two phases. Let’s remember the endless queues in front of McDonald’s worldwide that appeared the very instant major lockdown restrictions were lifted. The whole world is just waiting for one thing: to go back on vacation and live anew. Many already know their next destination and have dreamed of making it there on a daily basis. The first phase will, therefore, be a direct return of the pendulum, with an enormous demand that must be met as soon as the global health situation allows.
However, this could present the opposite problem, when the supply reduced by the contraction of the trade will not be able to meet the demand. What will happen then? Let’s apply Darwinian thinking to this question, which shows that the greatest evolutionary leaps take place during immense exogenous pressures.
Cataclysms and mass extinctions do not sound the death knell for life, but leave a vacuum that life hastens to fill until every niche is comfortably occupied by a new species. This acceleration of evolution, this race to adapt, will be demonstrated across all professions of the hospitality industry.
Wasn’t the mammals’ hour of glory that disastrous day when the earth burned under the flames, then suffocated under the ashes, killing the dinosaurs and leaving the path clear for a new way of conceiving life? Based on this principle, we can conclude that, in the history of tourism and hospitality, there has never been a more fascinating time to embark on management studies and take part in the revival.
The hotel industry has always known tides, fluctuating with the seasons, within the economy and global geopolitics. Today, it is much more than just a low tide. It is a complete recession of waters, signaling an incoming tsunami of future demand!
The drop in activity is already being used by many as a time for introspection, reflection and preparation for the hotel industry of tomorrow. This is notably the case for certain establishments that have very solid backbones, such as the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne. Its Managing Director, Nathalie Seiler-Hayez, commented: “Thanks to our owner, the Sandoz Family Foundation, we can invest during the crisis, which is a considerable asset. I must therefore supervise this project and work on our reopening strategy around the well-being. In the absence of clients, it’s time to be strategic, to keep projects, to bring together and motivate our teams, and to maintain the emotional bond with our clients”. The same goes for the InterContinental,where “we brainstorm on tomorrow’s offers and services, we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes on tomorrow’s desires, we get trained”.
New demand and need for talent
The demand, and therefore the survival, of the industry seems to be well assured. Consumer expectations, as well as marketing strategies will change at the outset of this ordeal, perhaps with a greater focus on domestic customers and a greater concern for the environment. And this new hotel industry will need talent to match the opportunities that will emerge.
According to Alexia Lepage, “This crisis is placing even greater demands on everyone’s abilities and potential, it requires the talents of this industry to be multi-functional, multi-skilled, innovative, demanding, resilient and to remain positive in all circumstances. It is an industry that will come out of this crisis stronger and more competitive, and will therefore be looking for talents and particular profiles that will require specialized skills and therefore excellent training, at the cutting edge, which is and has always been EHL’s vocation”.
It is difficult to know exactly what to expect. But one thing is certain: the adventure has only just begun and the coast is clear for the pioneers of tomorrow who will be able to leave their mark on an entire generation through their passion, creativity and ethical and environmental values.