Now is an excellent time to enter the hospitality sector. According to a recent report from Deloitte, “A strong economy, rising global consumer purchasing power, and digital innovation have all fueled record growth in the travel and hospitality industry”.
Indeed, with global tourist arrivals reaching 1.4 billion in 2018, there’s high demand for talent in different parts of the market, including sustainable destination management — a tool for potential poverty reduction, economic development and natural resource conservation.
“The opportunity for career advancement is high due to the accelerating growth of the sector,” says Larry Yu, who runs an MTA in Hospitality Management at George Washington University School of Business in the US.
This marks a sharp change from even a decade ago, when the real estate market crashed and management-level positions in hospitality were nearly impossible to come by.
George Washington’s MTA in Hospitality Management is one of a number of specialist programs focused on hospitality and tourism management that are set to grow. The opportunity is to train students for a much broader range of service industries, such as technology and consulting. Demand is high for those with “soft skills” such as communication that are at the heart of hospitality, whether you’re working for Google or Goldman Sachs.
Graduates have roles in asset management, healthcare and real estate. “Cornell’s graduates not only manage hotels and restaurants, but are entrepreneurs and analysts,” says Robert Kwortnik, director of graduate studies at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in New York State. One is director of customer analytics and insights at Shake Shack; another is managing culinary director of a food TV network.
Launched in 2006, Cornell’s Master of Management in Hospitality is a relatively new course. Switzerland pioneered management training for the hotel and restaurant industry, establishing institutions as far back as 1893. The range of options since then has increased exponentially — courses are run at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland, ESSEC Business School in France and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to name just a few.
These courses cover strategy, marketing et al with niche knowledge on hospitality management bolted on, including revenue management, business analytics and event planning.
George Washington’s course attracts a wide array of candidates from all manner of undergraduate majors — business, psychology and international relations, in addition to professionals already working in the hospitality and tourism industry who are seeking a promotion.
The attraction is often a passion for travel and working with people, says Yu. Experience is important in hospitality, so most courses integrate practical elements into the curriculum.
Each year, Cornell’s students participate in an optional immersion in industry. This year they were hosted by MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, meeting executives, learning brand management at a casino resort and presenting recommendations on strategy, digital marketing and hotel operations to the resort.
One of the big innovations in the curriculum has been digital technology. Many hotels have been decreasing human interaction with guests, with innovations such as online booking more prevalent. Websites and apps like Booking.com and Airbnb have achieved enormous growth by giving consumers cheaper, more convenient options for travel — Airbnb alone was valued at $31bn in 2017.
Some lower-level jobs may be automated because of the increasing use of technology. However, “soft skills” remain vital to hospitality and are unlikely to be replicated effectively by machines.
Still, Cornell’s Kwortnik teaches a course on the fast-evolving digital hospitality space, with help from alumni at Google and Facebook, among other companies. It covers website design, programmatic advertising, mobile, influencer, search engine and social media marketing.
“Hospitality is more global, and technology is playing an ever-larger role. Graduate education has to do the same not only keep up, but to prepare tomorrow’s leaders,” Kwortnik says.
The challenge is keeping pace with rapid developments in consumer behavior and innovative management practices, and integrating them into the curriculum in a timely manner.
Alumni are useful in this. At Cornell, many of the guest lectures are delivered by graduates working in the industry, at the forefront of innovation. “More than ever we need a new generation of hoteliers and hotel entrepreneurs who will be creative and adaptable,” says Tatiana Dauxert, director of the MSc in Luxury, Hospitality and Innovation at SKEMA Business School in France.
After a long period of standardization of the luxury hotel business, she says guests are looking for more authentic and differentiating experiences. To achieve this, hoteliers have to adopt various innovations that allow for creativity and personalization.
“This fundamentally changes the way in which a service is delivered,” says Dauxert, such as more online bookings.
This is highly attractive to many would-be hoteliers, who are motivated to join an aspirational and high-touch industry. However, Dauxert warns that the sector is taxing to work in. “Only hard-working and open-minded students, who are very adaptable, ready to learn and innovate will succeed in this inspiring and demanding industry.”