THE modern tourism industry is as dynamic as it is diverse. Every year new trends emerge in consumer behavior patterns, while hotels, cruise lines, and purveyors of luxury brands everywhere race to provide the goods and services required by the modern tourists; constantly redefining what it means to be five-star.
The hospitality education industry, in turn, must create a higher standard for excellence to meet new consumer demands.
A major player in hospitality education, Sommet Education, is an institutional network comprised of Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education — two schools consistently rated among the world’s best in hospitality education. We talk with Sommet Education’s newly appointed CEO, Benoît-Etienne Domenget, to learn how leading members of hospitality education industry are adapting to technological advancements and shifts in consumer demands and demographics, as well as the challenge of maintaining local relevance in an increasingly global economy.
As hospitality services take advantage of online platforms, they are able to provide a new set of services to a wider customer base than was ever possible in the pre-digital era.
The success of AirBnb is a perfect example of the many doors technology has opened for the hospitality industry. But although technology can be a blessing for some, it can cause problems for others. As modern tourists rely on their phone to access information about hotels and restaurants in an unfamiliar city, a few negative Yelp reviews — despite their subjectivity — can often be a disaster for startups in the hospitality business.
While the industry struggles to keep up with changing tech trends, digitization of the classroom is also challenging the traditional methods of hospitality education. Asked about the greatest challenge currently faced by Glion and Les Roches, Domenget said it comes as a new tech-savvy generation “requires us to change the way we deliver academic content to be engaging for ‘digitally minded’ students.” A big part of the curriculum at Glion and Les Roches provides the “know-how” necessary to handle the business side of hospitality.
But of equal importance, Domenget stresses, is the training in “interpersonal relationships,” which is essential for cultivating the brand of customer service that earns a five-star designation. Indeed, accommodating the need for digitization while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of interpersonal communication is easier said than done.
Key players in the hospitality industry are looking on China’s rapidly growing middle class with a keen interest. A Goldman Sachs report estimates that 120 million Chinese tourists spent US$250 billion in 2015. By 2025, it is projected that 220 million Chinese tourists will spend a total of US$450 billion annually.
This indicates an opportunity of significance in the business of global tourism and hospitality education.
Addressing the question of how to meet the unique demands of an ever-expanding Chinese tourist demographic, Domenget emphasized a strategy of “constant dialogue with key industry players and very strong relationships with customers.”
Key industry players provide Sommet Education with information on market trends and other relevant data, while the emphasis on interpersonal skills fosters customer relationships which bestride cultural barriers.
“Think globally, act locally” approach refers to the strategy implemented by some multinational companies wherein a global viewpoint is adopted in terms of formulating company vision, long-term objectives and devising an effective strategy to achieve these objectives, while ensuring adaptations are made in each market according to local culture and customs.
As its network of hospitality schools extends to Switzerland, Spain, China, Jordan, United Kingdom and the US, Sommet Education is a prime example of the approach. Domenget stresses the importance of acting locally. “We have our roots, we have our backbone, and we have our value proposition, but the most important thing is for us to be locally relevant.”