Dragging hotel training into the 21st century

Hotelier Indonesia

Dragging hotel training into the 21st century

Interview with Qooco CEO, David Topolewski C an you share with us the history of hospitality training?

To best understand the history of hospitality training we must first look at the history of hotels, as both are interlinked. The earliest period to which we can trace the existence of hotels is during biblical times, where they were commonly referred to as “inns”, providing travelers with a place to rest. In the 5th century, inns started to incorporate stables for travelers’ horses, and moved further inland alongside major trade routes. The basic nature of these establishments meant that service – as we would understand the concept today – was not a priority, and very few skills were required from the ‘employees’ beyond basic cleaning and organizing.

The 16th century saw hotels expand their offerings to include cuisine and entertainment services, and in the 18th century guest tastes started to become more sophisticated. Hotels began to possess beautiful architecture and offered guests their own private bathroom, electricity and lighting – this necessitated a need for employees with higher skill sets.

As a result, the first formerly recognized tourism-related training programs took the form of apprenticeships in Germany after 18701, and in 1893, the world’s first hotel school, Ecole Professionnelle de la Société Suisse des Hôteliers, was set up in Lausanne, Switzerland (now the famous École Hôtelière de Lausanne)2. Future employees started to learn the art of hospitality, complex cuisine and other skills. Switzerland developed as the center of this movement, a heritage that exists to this day.

Today, how do hotels train their employees? What are the techniques and structures?

While every hotel is different, there are certain basic structures inherited from the early Swiss hotel schools that most properties adhere to. Apprenticeships provide new employees with practical lessons to develop their professional skills, usually consisting of the employees spending a period of time working in every department of the hotel before starting of their career in their preferred department. The apprentice will usually start off learning the basics, such as how to make a bed or clean a room, after which they would be trained on cuisine and serving skills and other skillsets. This is designed to provide an all-round understanding of the hotel. The employee would then hit the front lines, often shadowing a more experienced colleague.

More specialist skills, such as F&B knowledge, service theory and languages, would usually be taught in a classroom setting, with specialist teachers brought in. It is worth noting, however, that for many hotels a lengthy training regime is a luxury. Thanks to high employee turnover, and the cost of bringing in teachers and other specialists, new employees are often quickly thrown into the front lines, with the bulk of the training falling on his or her colleagues.

Are the current ways in which hotels train their staff adequate?

While I would say that current training methods just about do the job, many hotels fail to tap into the benefits of 21st century technology. Furthermore, changes in guest and employee demographics and tastes means that employees can quickly lack skills that would help the hotel stand out.

Firstly, today’s hotels serve guests from all over the world, yet language learning takes a back seat as it can be expensive and take a long time. Most hotels would actively hire native speakers of a certain language rather than teach their own employees. This lack of language ability among the majority of service staff increases miscommunication, and negatively affects service.

Training programs of today also fail to teach employees about the cultural practices of guests coming from many countries, which can also lead to more misunderstandings. A busy Front Office is a stressful enough environment, but when you’re dealing with groups of people from different parts of the world all tired, jetlagged and hungry, then this creates challenges that even the most experienced associate would struggle with.

Lastly, classroom-based learning is quickly becoming ineffective, expensive and obsolete. A 20163 report shows that the traditional class-room learning format of teaching employee’s new information is no longer the most preferred way for employees to learn. Modern employees are more used to receiving information in a bite-sized format, usually via mobile.

How will future technology impact hotel employee training programmes and the hotel industry?

Technology can address many of the shortcomings that we see in modern hotel training. Virtual Reality (VR) can replicate the stresses and strains of a busy hotel. Furthermore, it can also train teamwork and leadership, with multiple colleagues using VR to solve virtual problems together. While the technology is still in its infancy, there will come a time when it emerges as a low-cost way of training employees, equipping them with the right skills before they are exposed to the guest.

Mobile learning is already used by many hotels to good effect. Employees learn more from a screen than they do from a book, and mobile learning can be used to teach vocational skills such as F&B service, upselling skills and languages. Importantly, the data generated from mobile learning can be used to identify strong and motivated employees, and will provide more accurate data on an employee’s skillsets than any CV would.

Technology will play a role in augmenting human skillsets, and despite some of the headlines, I do not see technology (read: robots) replacing human interaction – certainly not on a wide scale. Yet current training methods are still too rooted in the 19th century, which is both inefficient and becoming ineffective, and need to be upgraded to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

1 Cathy Hsu C.H., Global Tourism Higher Education: Past, Present, and Future. P. 28. URL more

2 École Hôtelière de Lausanne, EHL History. URL:

3 Human Resources Online, 5 learning and development trends to watch out for in 2017. URL:
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