Aggressive expansion in Asia has left the hospitality and tourism industry battling with a severe talent shortage at all levels, especially in management and leadership roles. What is the industry doing to address this challenge? Donald Gasper talks to some of the trainers.

Due to the rapid expansion of the hospitality and tourism industry there is an ever increasing manpower need in the Asian region. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2017, the world’s 10 fastest growing tourism cities are all in Asia. The top 10 growth list is Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Manila, Delhi, Shenzhen, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

“With growing affluence as a push factor, and active marketing by destinations as a pull factor, travel increasingly has become part of life,” says Dr Tony Tse, Professor of Practice (Industry Partnerships), at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “People aspire to new experiences and discovery both during their business travel and leisure travel.”

Hotels have to create cater a sense of welcoming to the place, connecting visitors to the local community, delighting guests with the unexpected, and making their stay pleasant and memorable, says Tse. “From the business point of view, hotels have to win the hearts and minds of their guests so that they will become advocates. People today believe more in guest reviews than expert opinions. Hotels have to have talents who understand and embrace the intricacies of guest relations in order to become rated higher by guests. They have to train their staff members on the importance of engaging guests and connecting with them online and offline. While there might be a talent shortage overall, there is much room to train and re-train current staff members so that they become the ‘face’ of a hotel and in a way promoting a hotel. In addition, hotels could adopt technology and explore new systems which help manage guest relationships.”

Strategising Partnership

Associate Prof. Dr Toney K. Thomas, Head, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Events, in the Faculty of Hospitality, Food and Leisure Management, at Malaysia’s Taylor’s University, says that academic institutions and industry have to strategise an exclusive partnership to narrow down the expected future talent shortage. “The best way of developing leadership talent is by identifying talents and nurturing managerial skills at the early stage of hospitality and tourism education. In this speedily changing industry, it’s important for trainees to accumulate transformational and transactional leadership skills during their studies.”

One important way to address this issue, Thomas says, is the constant engagement of industry with academic institutions, which allows the students to tackle industry’s managerial and operation issues through ‘real life case studies’. Additionally, identifying the skill sets in the early education stage through a personalised training plan to groom, retain and develop hospitality and tourism skills via a ‘fast-track’ career pathway is an emerging intervention by the industry.

As a leading institution providing hospitality and tourism training in Hong Kong, the Hotel and Tourism Institute of Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Centre provides diversified programmes covering different aspects of the industry to meet the needs of industry.

Laying Foundations

“For our certificate and diploma programmes designed for school leavers, emphasis is placed on both basic theoretical knowledge and practical skills which lay a good foundation for students to enter into the professions,” says Francis Lam, HTI’s Programme Manager. “Yet, we provide group works and training in an authentic guest-contact environment to help students to develop their communications skills and leadership quality. Apart from focusing on operations, we also provide hotel management modules to inspire the students to dream big in their career path.”

“While in other industries the talent shortage issue is being solved in part by the automation of selected business processes, that is hardly viable in the tourism and hospitality industry given its work nature,” says Henrique F. Boyol Ngan, a lecturer at the Tourism College of the Institute for Tourism Studies in Macao.

Efforts across organisations have been made to create a more appealing job and career path for young talents through what is commonly known as management trainee programmes. These typically encompass a range of business activities that the trainees would go through (ranging from frontline operations to back of the house administrative work). Rotating the management trainees to different departments helps to create a less repetitive version of the job and most importantly it provides a greater sense of the meaningfulness of the work experience, Ngan says.

At the end of the 2 – 4 year programme, employees are generally given a supervisory or managerial position (when one is available). “This has been proven effective in alleviating manpower needs at the lower level, but at the same it time caters for future leadership needs as it grooms employees to managerial positions.”