Upgrading travel industry training for the 21st century

David Topolewski, CEO of Qooco, urges a rethink of travel industry training programmes with greater use of technology

It is 16.30 in the afternoon, and finally the 30-plus guests from Japan enter the front office all at once, along with their luggage, arriving after a long flight that was delayed by three hours, with rain and traffic further delaying their arrival from the airport. They are all tired, and looking forward to going to their rooms, showering, eating and sleeping.

There is a problem, though. Some of their rooms are not yet ready, thanks to a previous group that left late and an undermanned housekeeping staff. Additionally, a glitch in the system means that check-in needs to be done by hand, and the front office staff don’t seem to be communicating with each other with guests being checked in twice and passports being mislaid, trying to explain the situation in halting Japanese. The team leader needs to take control of the situation, before guests start complaining and team members get too stressed.

Topolewski: hotel employee training needs to incorporate more technology 

Then everything goes dark, and a voice appears asking everyone to remove their goggles. There is now a lengthy debrief from the training manager, picking apart what went wrong, what went right and how the team can work better together to improve the situation. Not a single guest was harmed!

While this could be a real-life scenario, luckily this is virtual reality (VR) training of the (not too distant) future, which allows the hotel to train its staff realistically, away from the hotel frontlines. While this may seem far-fetched, the technology that would enable such realistic training is available today, yet many hotels still use 19th century training techniques.

Most hotels train their staff through apprenticeship programmes where they will work together with senior staff members in the various departments of a hotel, and classroom-based theory lessons conducted by professional trainers.

Language learning is nearly always an afterthought for these hotels, with few providing any proper training. Most simply hire a native language speaker at much greater expense. Little attention is paid to teaching upselling skills, at best a more experienced employee would pass down a few ‘tricks of the trade’ to a new team member.

Hotel employee training needs to be dragged into the 21st century. This does not necessarily mean a wholesale change in the way that staff are trained – frontline experience is a nerve-wrecking, yet vital part of a service employee’s development – but more incorporation of technology would reduce costs and improve learning outcomes.

VR is a low-cost yet effective way to prepare employees for real-life situations

VR is one technology that is almost tailor-made for the travel industry. VR can replicate many of the stresses and strains that employees would face. All this could be done in daily, 30-minute intervals at very low cost.

Mobile learning has already been adopted by the corporate world (mobile learning is forecast to grow by 16.5 per cent between 2016-2020), and is highly suitable for employee training given the use of smartphones among young workers today.

Not only can mobile learning teach employees language skills, but also upselling skills and customer interaction and engagement – something that was previously taught via a few role-plays during the first weeks of training. Importantly, unlike classroom-based learning, this can happen anytime, anywhere.

Augmented reality (AR) can aid employees to improve in their specific roles, and even accompany them on the job. An AR start-up, AR-Check, has developed glasses worn by housekeeping staff that informs them which tasks should be completed, when, where and how, reducing errors and inconsistencies.

This applies not only to hotels but the entire travel industry. Airlines have their stewards and stewardesses go through lengthy training processes, yet this could be made cheaper and more efficient through technology. Travel agencies can improve their frontline employees’ language skills through mobile learning, retailers can train their staff through AR.

The list goes on, but what is clear is that we are now entering an age where employees are more used to learning from a screen than from a book, and so the opportunities for constant learning and training are now opening up in ways that were not available before.

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