Building a future-ready hospitality workforce through upskilling

Singapore Institute of Technology's associate professor of hospitality business, Detlev Remy, discusses the importance of upskilling today's hospitality workforce and how that can benefit them and the hospitality industry of the future.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry had already faced severe challenges, such as the lack in digitisation, data analytics and focus on customer orientation, among other aspects.

The pandemic hit this industry in a way that’s never seen before, and this was not helped by further government interventions and regulations.

Unlike other industries, the hospitality industry couldn’t easily digitise its products and offerings (hotels, dine-in establishments, etc.) and also relied heavily on international travel, both for business and leisure. As the world came to a standstill, the hospitality industry suffered the most. Expectedly, domestic demand was not sufficient to compensate for losses, such as in the MICE sector.

So, what is the overall outlook currently? This depends on the region in question. Developed countries are in the midst of running their vaccination programmes. The expectations are that towards the end of 2021 (latest 2022), some level of normalcy in travel can be expected. Travel bubbles, which are travel arrangements on a bilateral basis, as well as some opportunities for leisure travel, are expected to be established.

Business travel is not yet expected to recover any time soon at a large scale, and same goes for the MICE industry. The situation is, unfortunately, different for developing countries, where vaccination programmes are difficult to execute due to logistical challenges, and resources for funding such vaccination programmes are limited.

There still is light at the end of the tunnel. The hospitality industry can use this time to prepare itself. A good start would be to review and refine its business models and processes, and seize the opportunity to reskill and upskill its workforce. So that once the upswing in travel and activity happens, the hospitality industry will be prepared to handle customer expectations and business environments that would have changed drastically by then.

What are the skills needed to handle these changes, and why? Customers will probably demand for more safety, flexibility, transparency, and experiences. The workforce must learn how to reach out to potential customers, win them over, manage their expectations, and retain them in the new normal. Moreover, businesses must learn to thrive in the domains of digital marketing, data analytics, and advanced operations to keep afloat.

Take the example of digital marketing. Customers are online, 24/7. The pertinent question to answer is: Is the industry ready to meet the customers there? Knowing the mechanism of the internet, such as search engines and social media, is essential.

A rigorous and extensive training of these essential skills, such as digital marketing, data analytics, and not to forget revenue management, are needed not only to acquire new customers and retain them, but also to optimise processes. And most importantly, to sell more and to sell better.

These times are challenging, and it can be argued that there are major areas of interest and focus for the hospitality industry.

Firstly, one key focus is to generate revenues while maintaining strict cost management, to allow a business to recover sooner than later, as well as repaying accumulated debts. Hence, having the right skill sets and mindsets to optimise revenues, for example, by identifying ancillary revenue opportunities, upselling and cross selling, are essential. The idea is to place emphasis on winning and retaining new customers in a cost-effective way.

The Executive Leadership Programme for Hospitality Transformation, developed by SITLEARN Professional Development as an SGUnited Skills programme, offers modules specific to revenue management and optimising financial performance that would prepare its participants explicitly for this.

Secondly, it is also important to focus on the means of reaching out to and engaging customers, and converting them into active bookers and guests. In this age of data, we should take advantage of the huge amount of data already available and learn how to utilise it for decision-making, enabling optimisation in all core areas. For this, skills in data analytics and digital marketing are essential. These topics are addressed in the Executive Leadership Programme for Hospitality Transformation, taught by the Singapore Institute of Technology faculty with vast experience in the hospitality industry.

The new generation of leaders needed in the hospitality industry must have the knowledge and skills in dealing with the challenges of digitisation, and be able to transform the industry in a way to take full advantage of it. To generate more revenue, more customers, and more profit, as simple as it sounds, are the keys to success for the hospitality industry, and skills like revenue management and digital marketing will help leaders in this industry adapt to the challenges post-Covid-19.

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