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Careers in Hospitality

Asking the Experts About the State of Hospitality

Photo: Courtesy of Rhema Kallianpur

Technology has changed the landscape of the hospitality industry but it still is, more than ever, a business model defined by quality service. We asked our panel of experts about the direction the industry is heading and how hospitality experts can stay ahead of the curve.

Robert Irvine

Host, “Restaurant: Impossible”

From your perspective on the industry, how has technology improved operational efficiency and guest satisfaction?

If you’re using the right tools, the difference is night and day. Technology has made both sides of the experience — for employees and guests — exponentially better. In my restaurants, we use a software called COMPEAT that not only manages shift scheduling, it manages inventory. Because every time a server goes back to the computer and enters an order, the software is deducting the exact amount of breadcrumbs, oil, flour, etc., from our inventory, and letting us know when we need to reorder things. It has taken one of the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of running a restaurant out of the equation. 

On the consumer-facing side of things, we use HUMM Systems, which puts a tablet into the hands of diners so they can instantly leave feedback on their experience. It allows them to do this anonymously and without the hassle of filling out a survey at some later date, which they probably won’t do. We’ve found that we can identify top performers and areas for improvement instantaneously. But not only that, if a customer did have a lousy experience, that opportunity to express themselves makes them less likely to take their gripes public to Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Google Reviews, etc. When I was starting out in this industry, if you had told me either of these tools would be available, I would have thought it was a fantasy. But it’s not. These things are here now and work amazingly well. 

Can you debunk one myth about a career in hospitality for readers?

I would just want to be very clear with anyone considering a career in hospitality that it is unique in so many ways, not the least of which is career track. More than most businesses, careers in hospitality are performance-based to such a huge degree that what you do today totally defines you. Not what you did yesterday or the day before. Consumer options and the rapid spread of information—good and bad—has revolutionized this industry to the point where you have to stay on top of your game at all times and be completely tuned in to every aspect of your business. You can’t set something up and walk away and expect it to work. 

So if there’s a moral in that: Do it because you love it, not because you want to make a lot of money. There’s great money to be made, of course, but that only follows passion, care, and consistency. 

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

Disruption is the new normal and the only constant you can count on in any business right now. Stay agile. Stay lean. Be ready to react to new tastes, new market forces, new consumer expectations. No one is a fortune-teller. There’s no way for me to warn anyone of what’s to come. But if you stay plugged into how your business is operating and what your customers are telling you and stay ready to react, then you’re going to do just fine. And that, of course, has always been the case. 

Robert Post

CEO, Knowland

What is one way that hospitality professionals use technology solutions and platforms to ensure they are meeting business needs?

One-way hospitality professionals leverage technology solutions and platforms to ensure they are meeting business needs is to directly engage customers and prospects with actionable information.  At Knowland our average hospitality customer generates 40% of their revenue and over 50% of their EBITDA from Group Business, which is under attack to be commoditized, similar to what Online Travel Agents (OTA’s) did to transient bookings during the great recession.  With a sustainable Proactive Group Sales Strategy and the technology solutions to support that strategy, customers regain control of group sales pipeline, revenue, and profits for their property.

From your perspective on the industry, how has technology improved operational efficiency and guest satisfaction?

Interestingly, technology has broadened our reach while at the same time flooded us with data vs. information, often leading to analysis paralysis. In the group sales space, inbound RFPs are listing multiple cities more and more frequently. While some of this might be related to internal protocols requiring multiple bids, it could also be a meeting planner stacking the deck to make the market they prefer look especially attractive. This is why it is so important for sales people to be able to understand the buying behavior of groups before they respond to these inbound RFPs. Without this level of group knowledge, the sales person quickly defaults to competing on price only (rates, dates, and availability) and this leads to the commoditization of group business.

We recommend shifting the primary source of business mix to proactive selling; using inbound leads as the filler not the main source. Knowland is supporting the industry’s return to a Proactive Group Sales Strategy which returns control of pipeline development, revenue and profits to the hotel, where it rightfully belongs.

What is one of the most significant developments or advancements in your area of focus within the industry over the last several years?

Our SmartSearch capability within Insight Elite is groundbreaking – the first to be offered to the hospitality industry.  SmartSearch sits on top of the largest database (16M) of actualized events and enables proactive selling as a hotel’s number one sales strategy. The Elite with SmartSearch algorithm searches and serves up highly useful and qualified warm prospects to group salespeople improving their efficiency and close rate.  

What is the best way that businesses in the industry can keep up with advancements in technology?

From industry reports and trends to industry conferences, these are all good ways to stay abreast of advancements in technology. Another way is to be aware of just how well existing tools are helping or hindering productivity and profitability. There might be unintended consequences from legacy solutions that are holding the industry back. In group sales, asset managers, ownership or management groups should evaluate and explore the cost of sale, pipeline development and profitability from their existing processes and supporting solutions to determine if they need to be re-engineered. They also need to be thinking about how best to create processes that work in all economic times and how best to drive a competitive advantage.

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

Over dependence on inbound RFPs as a “strategy” for selling group is a recipe for under-performance and that is what we are seeing in the market today. This is underscored by sales leaders remarking on how the wind-down of the historic growth cycle is creating downward pressure on their group business. They are left with sales teams that have subpar proactive prospecting skills and struggle to make up the difference. 

The industry needs to take a hard look at how they sell group business today. If they do not pivot from an inbound RFP “strategy” to a sustainable Proactive Group Sales Strategy and the technology solutions to support that strategy, the industry risks continued lack of control of the group sales pipeline and under performance in revenue and profits for their property.

Nicole Dehler

Vice President of Product Management, StayNTouch

From your perspective on the industry, how has technology improved operational efficiency and guest satisfaction?

The industry’s focus on mobility, connectivity, and personalization has created processes that are less cumbersome for both guests and back-of-the-house operations. Mobile technology allows travelers to customize every touchpoint of the guest journey while simultaneously connecting them to a technological ecosystem that uses customer data to personalize preferences. This technological ecosystem can be greatly facilitated by using a cloud-based PMS, equipped with a truly open API.  These systems can seamlessly integrate with a host of other platforms that can increase efficiencies and enhance the guest experience. 

For example, a cloud-based PMS gives travelers the option of how they want to check in: either through their mobile device, a smart-kiosk in the lobby, or a friendly hotelier aided by a tablet. It also lets them personalize their stay with targeted, “in-the-moment” offers for amenities, room upgrades, or monetized early check-in/late check out. Mobile payment systems and POSs can extend this convenience even further by allowing guests to purchase a range of goods and services directly from their smart phone. Similarly, in-house guest messaging services let your guests choose how they can keep in contact with staff, so they can process requests or handle complaints before they turn into negative reviews.

Of course, none of these guest-facing enhancements would be possible without corresponding increases in back-of-the-house productivity.  A mobile PMS allows instant communication and real-time room status updates between front-desk agents and housekeeping staff, resulting in an increase in room attendant productivity by 20% and eliminating 80% of the calls made to the front office. This increase in productivity can also enhance ancillary revenue and guest satisfaction by opening up more rooms for early check-ins and late checkouts. And of course, guests won’t have to deal with mistaken early-morning knockings!

What is one of the most significant developments or advancements in your area of focus within the industry over the last several years?

Thomas Friedman once famously wrote that “the world is flat,” when describing the effect that personal computers and the internet had on global commerce.  Today, mobility is “flattening” the hospitality ecosystem, shifting power from large legacy hotel chains, to smaller hotels and ultimately consumers. This is confirmed by numerous studies: For example, 72% of consumers have a more positive view of a company if it provides a mobile service experience (Gartner), 73% of business travelers prefer mobile check-in (MCD Partners), and 90% of hotel guests in the US and the UK find in-stay mobile messaging useful (OpenMarket).

Modern travelers want increasing amounts of convenience, control and personalization. Mobility gives travelers enormous power to shape their own guest journey; from inspiration, planning and booking, to how they actually experience their stay, to how they can influence other potential travelers post-stay. Gone are the days where hoteliers would have scripted, administrative interactions with guests while tethered to a granite front desk. Now, mobile-first properties are giving guests a choice, convenience, access and control by presenting a range of options to interact with the property and communicate with staff: mobile messaging, SMS, live chat, or AI-enabled chatbots, or staff members who can access their PMS/POS through a mobile tablet. 

Can you debunk one myth about a career in hospitality for readers?

The biggest myth that we’ve found is the mistaken notion that job opportunities in the hospitality industry are limited.  The fact is, in the hospitality industry, you are only constrained by your ambition and ideas 一 not a lack of viable opportunities.  This is especially true now that market for careers in hospitality information technology is really starting to take off. In fact, hospitality tech platforms rely on individuals with deep industry expertise to ensure that their products are actually increasing staff productivity and enhancing the guest experience. 

What is the best way that businesses in the industry can keep up with advancements in technology?

Through two mantras: “look, listen and learn,” and “value your strategic partnerships.” It’s crucial to grow and nurture your personal network of industry peers and learn as much as you can from their shared expertise.  Subscribing to industry-related publications and newsletters, and regularly following hospitality news outlets is also a great way to keep a pulse on what new technologies and best practices are trending.

It’s also important to develop deep strategic partnerships with your technology vendors. The modern traveler demands a personalized and seamless guest experience, and that requires a hyperconnected tech ecosystem that can support the increased operational demands of the hotel. Of course, a hyperconnected technology ecosystem cannot be achieved without well integrated partnerships between hoteliers and tech providers. The only way that hoteliers and technology providers can truly meet the needs of today’s rapidly evolving guests, is if they form tightly-knit, strategic partnerships, dedicated to improving the guest experience.

What is one way hospitality professionals use technology solutions and platforms to ensure they are meeting business needs?

Mobile technology affects literally every stage of the guest journey:

  • Pre-stay: Guests often gain the inspiration to travel by searching social media 一 Think Instagram, Pinterest and GoogleMaps 一 but usually switch to a desktop to finalize their travel plans and ultimately book.  This is a problem, first because it leads to more abandoned reservations and a loss of direct bookings to OTAs, but also because it’s difficult to track customers as they switch back and forth between devices.  Hotels which focus on creating a seamless, mobile-first experience 一 from their website, to their social media accounts, to their booking engines 一 will see an increase in direct bookings and a more holistic guest profile.

  • In-Stay:  As we discussed in previous questions, mobility can streamline hotel operations, increase ancillary revenue, and enhance the guest experience during their stay.  Think mobile check-in and monetized late check-out, targeted mobile messaging for room upgrades and amenities, facilitated by a frictionless mobile payment system. Other back-of-the-house benefits include enhanced staff communication, increased housekeeping productivity and room turnover, the ability of front desk staff to break free from the front desk, and the ability for revenue managers to set rates and availability any time, anywhere.  A mobile PMS can also serve as a central hub for guest data, pushing information on the guest’s stay, preferences, needs and requests to relevant technology platforms.

  • Post-Stay: More than half of Internet users worldwide have written reviews of destinations they’ve visited. Vacationers who once shared slides with a few friends now share video moments with the whole world. According to a study by Cornell, a 1-pt increase in a hotel’d 100-pt ReviewPro Global Review Index (GRI) leads to an 0.89% increase in price (ADR), 0.54% increase in occupancy, and a 1.42% increase in Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR)! Mobile messaging during a guest’s stay can have a profound influence on their sentiments post stay.  Mobile messaging is an easy and convenient way for guests to communicate, allowing staff to quickly answer questions, fulfill custom requests, or handle complaints…before they turn into a negative online review. 

Carl P. Borchgrevink

Director, School of Hospitality Business, Broad College, Michigan State University

How can getting a degree prepare students for advancing their career in hospitality?

The primary reason is that a degree program will provide students with a skillset/toolkit that will give them a broader understanding of hospitality business, and enhanced analytical skills that can help them recognize and respond to opportunities within the company or in the broader business/competitive environment.

 Secondly, a degree is a readily recognized and understood credential that can provide the graduate with a stronger profile. Thirdly, degree programs have networks of contacts that seek to help the graduates.  For example, recruiters come to campus to find qualified candidates, and past alumni seek to help their fellow alumni, or newer alumni, as they seek employment opportunities. The alumni network acts, in  many ways, as a large family. Alumni seek to help/assist other alumni.

Can you debunk one myth about a career in hospitality for readers?

One myth is that hospitality work is menial and without advancement opportunities. Some describe careers in hospitality as flipping burgersmaking beds, and serving others. While food, lodging, and service are important elements of hospitality businesses, and may be a vehicle for business profits, hospitality businesses share growth opportunities and challenges with other businesses.  

An employee’s/leader’s drive, desire, and abilities will determine how far they will advance. This is true across all types of businesses.  

What is one piece of advice you would give to young professionals starting a career in hospitality?

Remember that hospitality business, unlike many other businesses, is a customer-contact (guest-contact), intensive, and labor intensive business in which the customer is actively engaged at the time of production/delivery of a service. Successful hospitality leaders enjoy working with and through others to deliver a service to the satisfaction and delight of their customers.  

Many suggest that successful hospitality employees are extroverts. There is some truth to that, particularly in sales, but hospitality also needs thoughtful introverts. The key is whether the person is interested in understanding and serving (meeting the needs of) other people though hospitality.

What is one of the most significant developments or advancements in your area of focus within the industry over the past several years?

I came from a food and beverage background, and am delighted to see the increased interest in craft food and beverage, local sourcing, known provenance, seasonality, and sustainability.

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

Hospitality businesses face a labor shortage. Customers of hospitality businesses seek authentic experiences delivered in a way that shows the business cares about them. This requires highly skilled labor. Automation will play a role but cannot fully replace the human element. While employee recruitment, retention, and development is a challenge, it is also an opportunity for success for the highly skilled and motivated graduate. 

Chris Nassetta

President and CEO, Hilton

What is one piece of advice you give to young professionals starting a career in hospitality?

Our industry offers a broad array of opportunities for those who have a passion and want to pursue their dreams; from finance to operations to marketing, there’s something for everyone. For those who are just getting started, I feel strongly that there is no better way to learn the ins and outs of a business than by working on the front lines, getting your hands dirty and understanding the day-to-day realities of the business. Hospitality is a team sport, and we’re only successful if all of our Team Members are working together to create the best possible experiences for each and every one of our guests.

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

We’re truly living in a Golden Age of Travel — expanding middle classes, a demand for experiences, and unprecedented technological advances mean more people than ever are traveling and seeking out unique, exciting destinations. The flip side of that huge business opportunity is ensuring our industry is keeping people at the heart of what we do. At Hilton, we’re leveraging new technology to enhance our guests’ experiences and support our Team Members’ ability to provide our signature hospitality for our guests, communities, and partners. 

As an industry, we also must be more focused than ever on protecting the communities where we live, work, and travel, helping make them resilient for generations to come. In my role as the chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, I’ve seen our members take impressive steps to preserve their communities. That’s also why Hilton has doubled down on its Travel with Purpose platform with new commitments to halve our environmental impact and double our social investments by 2030. 

Nicolas Graf

Associate Dean, New York University School of Professional Studies, Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality

How can getting a degree prepare students for their career in hospitality?

In an undergraduate program there are essentially three things. A degree first prepares students for life in general and has a very strong curriculum that is shared across the university at NYU. It gives them a base upon which they can develop as a person in the arts, sciences, etc. It gives them a broader perspective of the world, history, and different cultures. This is all important in hospitality because, essentially, the hospitality industry is a people job and understanding other cultures, industries, and businesses helps with this. 

Second, it gives them the basis of the essential knowledge they need in hospitality in general. They become ready to engage in any career by having this grounding. And finally, it allows them to specialize in a type of job by taking a concentration at a university — whether it be in revenue/marketing management, event management, etc., they are prepared to take jobs that represent opportunities in that specific space. 

Can you debunk one myth about a career in hospitality for our readers?

One myth is that people think of hospitality just as hotels, and they do not appreciate the breadth and depth of the industry. Hospitality today is hospitality, travel, and tourism. Cruise lines, airlines, car rentals, destination marketing, and travel agents — boundaries are very blurry. Thinking it’s only hotels, which are just one part of it, doesn’t help you realize there is so much more and so many more job opportunities within the industry. 

We have a master program at NYU in hotel management but also in travel & tourism, events management, and more. There are many, many job opportunities other than just ones at traditional hotels. 

For example, every company has an events team, whether its organizing a small or a large event. At the university, we have a lot of events — grad ceremonies, incoming student orientations, etc. For the hotel programs, we have the students organizing one of the largest hotel investment conferences in the world — over 2,500 senior executives to prepare the students in the program. 

What is one piece of advice you would want to give to young professionals starting their career in hospitality?

They need to be optimistic about their career and opportunities that come their way.  The first job they have may be harder than they would want, but opportunities are anywhere and they can come very quickly. Stick in your job, open your eyes, be optimistic, and take opportunities when they come your way. I’ve done it myself. I started as a chef and I took opportunities in the business. 

What is one of the most significant developments or advancements in your area of focus in the industry over the last several years?

The digitalization of the whole travel experience has totally transformed the industry, and the way consumers are travelling and making decisions. Whether it be on where to travel, how to travel, and where to spend their days and nights. 

It has become a lot more transparent. Google has become very big in the travel space; you can plan and book your entire experience through its platform. That level of transparency, like reviews, gives travelers many more options than ever before. This empowers the customer in many ways and forces everyone in the space — hotels, restaurants, airlines, etc. — to up their game. This will make the industry better for the customer and the employees.

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

A lot of the existing companies have been around for decades — they are celebrating 100+ years. They have a legacy and structure, contracts, etc. I think the biggest challenge will be changing entire organizations to meet new needs for customers and employees. 

This is going to be hard because of the structure and legacy that is already in place. The hardest thing would be to think this is not necessary, especially with how the job is being done. We talk about automation, technology that is coming, AI (artificial intelligence), so rethinking existing best practices will be absolutely needed, and this is very hard to do. Especially for companies that have been successful for over 100 years. 

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