While ‘hard’ skills like accounting, financial analysis and marketing are essential skill sets for hospitality and tourism managers, soft skills are of paramount importance for succeeding in what is first and foremost a ‘people business’. So what are the essential soft skills that a prospective hospitality and tourism manager should master? Donald Gasper puts this question to some of the trainers.

Stanley Wong, Director of Human Capital, Agon Hotels and Resorts Ltd.

According to Stanley Wong, Director of Human Capital, Agon Hotels and Resorts Ltd., hospitality and tourism managers should be equipped with and master the essential soft skills for their jobs.

He lists some of these skills as follows:

  • understanding human behaviour and team development;
  • performance monitoring and coaching;
  • communications;
  • empathy and emotional intelligence, especially for handling complaints and challenges;
  • developing professional leadership; and
  • motivating people.

“These skills are needed whether the manager is a guest contact manager in the front of the hotel or a back-of-the-house manager. Imagine if the manager handles people interactions unskilfully, how much it costs to lose the guests, team members or suppliers. The consequences of failing to retain customers, staff, or key business relationships may be immeasurable.”

The hotel’s policies and procedures (P&Ps) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) may have guidelines how to handle cases in general, but so much of communication and people management is in fact non-verbal. The soft skills of a manager are essential to effect the brand requirements in varying situations.

These soft skills can be trained, developed and learned and reinforced through different stages of life and work experiences. That’s why the training team plays an important role in identifying with the senior management the training needs for managers.

Today, instead of the traditional classroom training style, we can produce skills’ training courses with virtual reality (VR) technology, which effectively makes them more lively and fun and the participation more immersive, interactive and conducive to picking up the skills, Wong says.

Understanding one’s role

John Ap, professor at Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT).

John Ap, professor at Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT), says that for anyone wishing to aspire to management level positions in the hospitality and tourism industry, it’s very important to understand what their role is, which is different from their job. A job describes one’s specific duties and tasks in the workplace. The focus for all employees, whether front-line or managerial, is to understand that their real role is to “stage and deliver memorable experiences” for the guest. Knowing and understanding your role requires one to think “big picture”, Ap says. It is not only about satisfying the guests, but striving to provide seamless, positive and memorable travel experiences for them. “Soft skills are very important in enabling one to stage and deliver memorable experiences and to do so, having empathy is critical. Service quality research studies have consistently found that addressing and meeting guests’ needs, in a caring and nurturing manner, is the most difficult aspect of service quality to provide.”

This is equally applicable when managers deal with their subordinates. A good manager must be able to put himself /herself in the shoes of the guest or subordinate and look at things from these respective viewpoints. Some other essential soft skills a manager must be able to master in order to effectively lead his/her team as well as stage memorable experiences for the guest include: having passion; effective communication; good interpersonal relationships; flexibility; and leadership. Lastly, a less often cited soft skill is having self-awareness of one’s abilities and weaknesses, which requires using and leveraging one’s strengths as well accepting responsibility for mistakes, learning from them, and acknowledging one’s weaknesses.

Vital skills

Dennis Wong, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Hospitality at Hong Kong’s Institute of Vocational Education (IVE), says: “Under the fast changing pace of the Hospitality and Tourism Industry, soft skills comprising problem solving with critical thinking, emotional and adversity intelligence, leadership and maintaining professional and ethical standards, to name a few, are vital for the hospitality and tourism managers.”

Some key soft skills are particularly essential for practitioners and future leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry, he notes: First, Emotional and Adversity Intelligence – which is about being empathetic and positive in understanding guests’ needs and being flexible at work in diverse situations. Second, effective communication is crucial as industry practitioners nowadays should be attentive to the guests and be able to communicate effectively in a timely manner so as to meet their expectations and create personalised guest experience. At the same time, active communication will also enable managers to interact with front and back-of-the house staff more effectively. Third, leadership skills should not be missing as we are all working in the “people industry” and teamwork is equally important. “Being leaders at work, it is essential to position to create the best team work which, in turn, creates the award-winning guest experience.”