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Careers in Hospitality

On Hospitality: A Check-In With Industry Leaders

Our panel of hospitality experts debunks myths, gives advice to those looking to get their start and looks to the future of what’s still to come for the industry.

Arun Upneja, Ph.D.

Dean and Professor, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

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

The hospitality industry is low skill, low tech and low respect.

Hospitality and tourism is basically about providing shelter, food and activities for people when they travel outside of their homes. However, it is also an industry that requires sophisticated management principles, application of proprietary technologies and direct connection to consumers.  All three are built on the need for highly skilled individuals using practices and systems unique to the industry (technology) in a complicated and very personal way. According to market research, the travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries with a global economic contribution of more than $7 trillion dollars. Worldwide, the tourism industry has experienced steady growth almost every year. We play an active role in one of the world’s most significant and impactful industries.

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

I urge our emerging leaders in service and hospitality to focus on people, analytics and profitability. First, people are the most important resource we have in our industry. In a service-driven sector, we have to make sure that we hire, train, motivate and keep our workforce satisfied. Second, running complex businesses generates enormous amounts of data, and today’s leaders in lodging, food and beverage, casinos, private clubs, cruise lines and more must be able to make sense of this data. This is where analytical skills prove important. Finally, we have to remember that hospitality is a business and must make money to keep all of us in the game.

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

We live in a very interesting time with respect to technology. It is changing so rapidly, as are the customer expectations and desires. For guest-facing roles, we use technology to continually delight our customers. Behind the scenes, technological innovations lead to improvements and continuous enhancements in our systems and processes. A couple of decades ago, I remember when the task of night-audit went from taking a few hours to pushing a couple of buttons. Now, of course, we are talking about letting guests select their own guest rooms, order their food and drink for pick-up, use keyless entry via smartphones, apps to order car service and so much more.

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

While “change” may have always been a constant in our industry, it’s the acceleration of change that is most significant at this point in time. Consumers’ preferences change, and it’s our role in hospitality to keep pace if not stay ahead of what’s on trend. For example, whether patrons desire gluten-free options, organic, vegan or hotel guests look for sustainable and environmentally conscious offerings – it is imperative we provide the options to please our guests so they share their stories, return to our offerings and remain loyal. Remember, it was not that long ago when a consumer could purchase a new car in any color – as long as it was black. Now, we find ourselves in a coffee house with so many options for coffee and beverages – the offerings are nearly endless.

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

There are many challenges, but a significant one is to satisfy the ever-changing customer needs while continuing to stay profitable. To satisfy the customer needs, our product offerings (in hotels, restaurants and food service, for example) have proliferated at an ever-faster rate. The complexity of product offering leads to increase in costs. However, as a business, we have to make sure that our industry is profitable. While there are disruptors and new competitors in the lodging and food spaces, we must retain a level of innovation and creativity to remain relevant.

Horst H. Schulze

Chairman Emeritus, Capella Hotel Group, CEO, WP Hospitality Group, Consulting Partner, Auburn University Hospitality Management Program

What motivated you to pursue a career in hospitality?

It was what I wanted to do since age 11. I grew up in Germany and began an apprenticeship in a hotel at 14 — and I have not regretted one day of my career in hospitality. It is the most exciting thing I have ever done.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in hospitality?

Make sure your values are aligned with the organization in which you choose to work. Find out what its vision is and what it plans for the future. Make sure it fits with your dreams and values. If the company’s goals and values do not fit with yours, keep looking. There are plenty of jobs out there. Understand the service orientation of the industry and then go and work for a great hospitality company. Be ready to move for the company. This is part of the excitement of the industry. And continue learning. You must know the variations of the industry, it is so beautiful and has so many opportunities – hotels, restaurants, high-end, low-end, fine dining, fast food – it is all there for you. The hospitality industry is unique, intense, global and has so much variety.

How has the hospitality industry evolved over the past decade?

There is an extensive job market for hospitality graduates. Other industries such as healthcare have begun seeking hospitality graduates to work for them. All because hospitality graduates understand the needs of the customer and fully grasp the concept of service. They know that hospitality graduates understand the importance of customer service and attention to the individual customer. All of this creates excitement to hospitality students. They learn precisely that hospitality and service are critical to today’s customer. The hospitality industry has always been evolving, but right now, there is an accelerated evolution in our industry. The differentiation is customer attention, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Consequently, a wide variety of employers are looking for hospitality students who have learned this. This makes them highly attractive to many other industries.

What is one industry trend within the hospitality industry that readers should be looking out for in the coming years?

Twenty years ago, if a guest was unhappy, it was not that impactful. Today, because of social media, one unhappy guest can impact the world – and this will continue to grow. Hospitality employees must understand this and how greatly it can impact the organization. Hospitality managers must make sure that each employee knows that they are not there to just perform their one job. They are not only there to open doors, make rooms or cook food, they are there to also help convince every single guest that they want to come back and want to recommend us. Or, at the very least, not say anything negative about us.

How does the hospitality industry support quality of life for its employees?

There is an opportunity in the hospitality industry to employ people, not just employees. Beyond a salary, beyond each employee’s actual task, the employees can become part of the vision and the impact of the organization. Each employee has the opportunity to positively impact each guest. It adds purpose. There is something “in it” for them. They don’t just come to work, they come and join my dream. I tell my employees how they benefit by helping us accomplish the company’s vision. In order to be a team, each person must know and truly be invested in the purpose. Every employee must be invited to be part of the dream, part of the purpose, part of something valuable and honorable.

What are some important steps that individuals can take to help advance their career in the hospitality industry?

Education is key to success in the hospitality industry. After I came to the United States to work in the industry, I realized that I had to go back to school. I took every course that I could find at night and during summers, learning everything I could about the industry. If you want the opportunity and potential of teaching and mentoring others, college education is critical. I have worked with the Auburn University hospitality management program for many years because I am so zealous about the next generation of hospitality employees. Through this partnership, I have been able to teach students about the unparalleled customer service standards by which Ritz-Carlton achieved its world-class reputation for service and twice won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award during my tenure. My latest project is to help create a world-class culinary science center at Auburn where students can learn the industry from top to bottom so they are more prepared to excel in hospitality and make a difference for customers.

Klaus Kohlmayr

Chief Evangelist, IDeaS Revenue Solutions

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

Hospitality is often seen as a traditional job path with limited career opportunities and very little innovation. However, this is far from the truth. Hospitality in the broader sense is at the forefront of innovation and technology disruption (ie AirBNB, Uber and others) and provides a wealth of opportunities and upward mobility. 

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

Be flexible, be curious, and become a global citizen.  You never know where an opportunity might lead you. This applies both to flexibility in the roles you take, as well as your geographic flexibility. I made a number of decisions which seemed counterintuitive at first, but proved to be great career stepping stones. Being flexible has also enabled me to work and live around the world, becoming a true global citizen. 

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

Technology, when used wisely, is an amazing enabler of both. Think about how we shop, book and travel versus only 10-15 years ago.  It is dramatically different. Technology enables us to predict what guests and consumers want, when they want it and what price they are willing to pay for it. In the future, with voice becoming the preeminent form of interacting with technology, it will become even easier to engage with consumers and guests. 

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

Consumers have the power to access information like never before. This has created new expectations in what companies must do to connect and engage with consumers. From our perspective, that means a hotel in the past could afford to not have a system make pricing decisions.  But now, with the tremendous of information and data, it is now evident that without an automated and fully integrated approach to pricing, hotels will not be able to compete effectively in the future. There are too many daily decisions that need to be made for a human to be effective in the modern hotel.

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

There is some concern on the horizon that a recession might be nearing, possibly by 2020. We don’t know how deep, broad or what the impact would be.  Because of this, hoteliers must consider the possibility and put contingency plans in place which will allow them to weather it successfully. Technology should be one of the cornerstones of that strategy.

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