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Tourism News South Africa

Hospitality leaders: Are we training dinosaurs in a digital world?

Over the past five years, the hospitality service industry has experienced significant transformation. Today's guests are more discerning and experienced, with higher expectations and a lower tolerance for mediocrity. To stay competitive, hospitality leaders must not only deliver excellent service but also continuously anticipate future trends. They must be adaptable, quickly adjusting to evolving expectations, technologies, and business models.
Source: ┬ęDmitry Kalinovsky via
Source: ┬ęDmitry Kalinovsky via 123RF

"The hospitality labour shortage is discussed extensively. But perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong problem. After all, it's not about increasing staff numbers – it's about finding the right people. The hospitality industry needs skilled people with the drive, adaptability, and business savvy required to thrive in a rapidly evolving industry," explains Pieter van Eck, group development director of BON Hotels.

Hospitality education: Stuck in the past?

Van Eck explains he’s seen the results of those with hospitality degrees first-hand. “Graduates arriving at BON Hotels often need extensive "retraining" to meet the demands of the modern industry. Learning institutions focus on theory rather than the practical skills of digital marketing, revenue management, and data-driven decision-making,” he says.

According to van Eck, we undervalue the power of business acumen and data literacy because those skills weren't as critical in the past. “Here's the surprising truth: tomorrow's hospitality leaders need to be as comfortable with analytics as they are with guests,” he says.

Van Eck’s top 3 must-have skills for leaders are:

1. Compassion: People are the foundation of hospitality. Leaders who truly care about their teams create loyalty and inspire excellence.
2. Adaptability: The only constant in hospitality is change. Leaders must be flexible, open-minded, and capable of swift strategic shifts.
3. Business acumen: This is NON-negotiable. Leaders must understand the bottom line, analyse trends, and make tough financial calls to ensure success.

At a crossroads

According to Van Eck, the hospitality industry has a choice: we can be dinosaurs lumbering towards extinction or evolve. We need to change our hospitality education and make in-service work mandatory! Theory is great, but real-world experience is invaluable.

And – van Eck explains we need to address the elephant in the room. The hospitality industry isn't known for its generous salaries, that's simply a fact. But what if we shifted the perspective? Instead of bemoaning this as an unchangeable hurdle, let's reframe it as a challenge that requires creative solutions and a long-term investment in our future.

To attract and retain high-potential individuals, van Eck suggests we need strong leadership, but we must also demonstrate that this industry values them beyond competitive wages. We need to consider:

Leadership Development Programmes: Investing in in-house mentoring, targeted training, and career progression paths that show high-performing individuals that their potential is recognised and rewarded.

Reimagined compensation models: While this change may be slow, the industry needs to explore ways to tie leadership performance to financial success. This could include profit-sharing structures, performance-based bonuses, or ownership opportunities for key leaders.

The adage, "You get what you pay for" is true. However, in hospitality, we need to shift this to: "You get what you invest in." Demonstrating a commitment to professional growth, financial stability, and an attainable vision of success will allow us to nurture the future hospitality leaders, rather than employees opting for our industry as a last resort.

“It's time to stop complaining about the lack of talent and start creating fertile ground where tomorrow's leaders can flourish,” says van Eck.

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