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Training hotel managers to think ‘glocal’

The Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) is considered one of the best hotel schools in the world

As global tourism continues to expand – largely driven by Asian visitors – so does the need for professionals who can manage its new complexities and subtleties. This is why Switzerland’s most prestigious hotel school has joined forces with Chinese and American institutions.

“We have a tendency to think like westerners with our Hilton and Marriott hotel chains independent of the local culture. This is over,” says Fabien Fresnel, Dean of the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL).External link

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO),External link with over 1.1 billion international and more than 5.5 billion domestic visitors last year, global tourism continues to break records.

France is the world’s most popular tourist destination, but officials believe it may be soon be overtaken by China in the next couple of years if growth continues at the current pace. Asia, led by China, is a late starter to the tourism industry but is catching up fast. The number of visitors to Asia rose from 28 million in 1980 to 300 million in 2013. Almost half of all new hotels being developed around the world are in China.

“Thirty years ago most tourists to Asia were Europeans and Americans, as Asians were too poor to travel,” declared Kaye Chon, Dean of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management.External link

But times are changing. In 2013, 82% of all tourist visits in Asia were intra-Asian. And according to the UNWTO, 10% of the emerging middle-class in China – or 130 million people – will take international flights by 2015, explained the Hong Kong dean.

“In the future you must expect that three out of five of your hotel guests will be from Asia,” Chon told an audience of students and officials last month at the EHL.

Elite Masters

The occasion marked the launch of a new elite 18-month programme – the Master of Science HES-SO in Global Hospitality Business – aimed at developing top managers, jointly organised by Chon’s institution, the EHL and the Conrad N. Hilton College at the University of Houston in the United StatesExternal link.

The first students in the programme, designed in partnership with hotel, tourism and service industries, will start in September 2015 and will spend one semester on each campus in Lausanne, Hong Kong and Houston.

The course, which will set students back an eye-watering CHF102,000 ($101,000), also includes a professional consulting mandate with a multinational firm and business field trips to trade fairs and top restaurants, for example.

Beyond knowing about finance, personnel or how to correctly lay a table, the 30 students expected next year will also need to get to grips with the industry’s growing complexities, ever-demanding customers, new booking trends and competitors like online travel agencies.

“What is important is not only having people who are well-trained technically, but who have a holistic 360-degree view of the industry,” explained Benoît-Etienne Domenget, managing director of Accor Switzerland.

Chateau-Latour or Chablis?

The course leaders say today’s high-flyers must also be much more culturally sensitive and able to think ‘glocal’ – both global and local.

EHL Dean Fabien Fresnel said the industry was grappling with two major issues right now: where to find qualified staff to fill hotels – one million people will be needed in both Asia and the US in the next three years – and how to train them to better understand other cultures.

In view of recent growth, Chon felt it was critical that future leaders better understand Asian mentalities and culture. This means understanding more about Chinese clients’ new-found interest in wines, for example, or knowing how to correctly praise your local staff.

“In Asia people feel embarrassed if you praise them in front of colleagues, unlike in western countries. You will make them much more proud if you do it in your office,” he commented.

Deep-rooted attitudes

This ability to bridge cultures is key, said Lorenzo Stoll, head of western Switzerland operations for Swiss International Airlines.

“Multicultural management, knowledge and interaction are a must,” he declared. “If I look at Swiss, we are part of the Lufthansa Group, but I have to say that in terms of multiculturalism we are far away from where I feel we should be as a global player, carrying people of different nationalities around the world.”

Deep-seated attitudes are hard to change, he went on.

“We are sometimes perceived as being a Zurich airline by Zurich people. So you see the challenge we are facing,” said Stoll. “In a global world like ours if you think we can apply what we learned about running a company the European way to emerging markets in Asia or Africa, then you are wrong.” 

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR