So how will the current crisis reshape the multi-billion dollar hospitality industry? It will need to be even more customer-focused, with a greater emphasis on digital technology, flexibility, emotional intelligence, and local solutions.
That’s the message from R. Max Behesht, Dean of César Ritz Colleges Switzerland, a leading business school with Hospitality and Entrepreneurship at heart.
While widely recognized globally, the IB (IB) Career-related Programme in Business and Hospitality Management, for students aged 16 to 19, is relatively new to Sweden. From this year, students at Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket (SSHL), a bilingual school just north of Stockholm, will have the opportunity to take the IB-career related Business and Hospitality Management Programme. SSHL is partnering with the highly-ranked Swiss Education Group, of which César Ritz Colleges is a member, and VIE Academy.
Far from seeing the current challenges as insurmountable, Behesht says they provide exciting challenges for young people eager for real world experience. “What’s required going into the future is new knowledge, new technologies but most importantly resilience and emotional intelligence,” he says.
Only the best will be good enough
“Mediocrity is no longer acceptable,” says Behesht. In an era when travel and socialising are viewed as risky, a customer experience “better be the best you can possibly have, so people want to come back and want to tell everyone else about it.”
This means hospitality is becoming more competitive, especially in terms of how to customize its offerings to meet customers’ expectations. This is just the sort of challenge that suits bright young minds who are “innovative and entrepreneurial” in their thinking, says Behesht. While the industry can still offer exciting international experiences, many of the solutions focus on the local and being available ‘on demand’.
The InterContinental in Geneva is a five-star hotel used to hosting UN dignitaries. Right now, however, the hotel currently offers radically different options. “They’re creating not only staycations but also ‘workcations’, where people come and work for a day or stay a week at the hotel,” states Behesht. “The hotel is also starting to offer takeaways or home delivery for previous guests who love the Sunday buffet brunch. They’re completely reshaping their offering to suit the market.” Personalized offerings for customers, including group activities, will be vital in future, he says, rather than simply a fixed price list for customers to choose from.
Soft skills at the centre
Creative problem-solving is clearly one much-needed skill in the hospitality trade, along with a service-oriented way of thinking. What other skills will students be trained to develop? According to Behesht, an increased emphasis on customer experience means interpersonal skills will be crucial.
While a growing focus on smooth use of digital technology and hygiene considerations is desirable, it could also make customer relationships overly “clinical”. “When something becomes clinical, you take away the flavour,” he says. “So, you need to add the soft social skills like emotional intelligence and good communication to create the enhanced value that people will invest money and time for.”
The aim, he says, is to build lasting customer relationships by combining “excellence and empathy”. Nor are these skills only relevant in hospitality. Behesht tells us many industries are “seeing the value of our students” with Tesla among the leading companies to have joined Swiss Education Group’s career fairs in the hunt for interns.
From Sweden, the world becomes your playground
SSHL is due to launch the hospitality programme in August this year. All teaching is in English, other than an element in the mother tongue of individual students. Work placements and optional internships take place with a number of partners, close to SSHL.
“Internships usually set students up for a great entry in management trainee positions in the top ranks,” says Behesht. The experience is of huge value, with students from more than 110 countries taking part. “Walk through our campuses and the world will come to you,” he adds.
Students who choose the hospitality programme at SSHL will also study three IB Diploma Programme subjects to prepare them for further studies. After completing the programme, students are ready to go directly into work in the industry or to enter higher education in the field. Students could also potentially get credits to support their development when attending César Ritz Colleges to further their studies.
Behesht, who is Swedish and grew up in Gotland, wishes he had discovered such a possibility himself when he was a teenager. “I always did summer jobs as a waiter when I was 16, 17,” he recalls. “Nobody ever told me you could study a proper business programme that is very much focused on the real world and hospitality. “What we offer is really a school of life: when you leave, you’re up to the challenge.”