'A Ringside View to the Changing Face of Hospitality'

Highlighting the importance of human capital, Dilip Puri, Founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality expresses how updating the content with changing times will help in shaping skilled professionals for the future.

As I reflect on the year past, I have been unable to figure out whether it went by fast or slow. What I have figured out though is that it has ushered in a new way how hospitality as an industry and its leaders are thinking about how their businesses will operate in the future. From faster adoption of technology, right sizing corporate and operating structures, to finding new revenue sources, this is the time the industry can truly benefit from the next upcycle which is just around the corner. 

The year that went by was anything but easy, and it is no surprise that the hospitality industry was one of the worst affected ones. And while a lot of damage was done, the adversities have truly presented some significant opportunities. Technology caught up a little sooner than what the original trajectory promised, and the world became more “no-touch” faster than we imagined it would. The industry was forced to adapt to the changing scenario quickly – the service industry got back on its feet and picked up pace fast, giving consumers the confidence to step out with safe practises in place. And that brings me to the most important element in all of this – people. 

Hospitality is all about people. The industry and its assets can be as technologically advanced as possible, but human capital is at the core of everything. And while this may sound counter intuitive, human capital will only become more valuable as technology changes the way we do things. I say this, not only as someone who has been a part of the industry all my life, but more importantly as someone who is now in education. A new normal (apologies for the cliché) is setting in, and it is crucial that we are at the forefront of this change in terms of adapting and of taking the steps required for strengthening existing capabilities. And that entails reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce and arming the younger ones with skills that prepare them for the future, often for jobs, careers and businesses that don’t even exist today. Education and industry are interlinked, it is an infinite loop. They complement each other – the better the education, the better resources the industry has, the more efficient it becomes, the more attractive it becomes as an employer, thereby demanding a better quality of education required – the loop goes on. 

Through my leadership journey in the industry, I have felt the constant need to bridge the gap between what the industry really needs and what people are equipped with through their education and regular learning. This need for continuous skill upgradation is something that is now a strategic imperative for organizations and businesses of the future. The speed with which the economy is evolving, it is essential that education mirrors the same pace too. The game has accelerated even more after the crisis from last year, which, as I have often said before, was a humanitarian crisis, one which has deeply affected people everywhere. 

One of the founding philosophies of the Indian School of Hospitality is that it exists for today’s generation and tomorrow’s businesses. It is essential that we create environments and ecosystems where students thrive no matter what the situation. When the lockdown was enforced, we were able to swiftly move classes online and take up a blended approach. It was possible because we had the technology and a faculty committed to not letting the pandemic disrupt academic delivery. The point is that investment in hospitality education, research and learning & development is the need of the hour and needs greater attention. Similarly, digitisation of operations is the way to go in the long run. Therein lies the acute need for industry and education to align.   

As I talk about education, I would like to point out this is an exceptional opportunity for young people to learn and build a future proof skill set right now and for working professionals to upgrade their portfolio of skills. As everyone adapts to the requirements of a new environment post the pandemic, it is a good time for both facilitators to develop academic structures and for students to gain new skills early on in life. Our great industry connect has allowed us to understand and assimilate changes happening in real time and we are able to adapt the delivery and content for students. 

As I conclude, I would like to ask our Industry colleagues for their thoughts on the fact that while the pandemic has taught the industry to be more efficient, the real question remains – is the existing workforce and talent pool available in the industry going to be able to make this transition? It is a true inflection point for hospitality. The pandemic has forced us to accelerate the adaptation of new technologies in meeting the needs of travellers who have themselves evolved rapidly. In doing this, we have realised the opportunities that efficiencies bring in for profitability as well as productivity. If a hotel now believes that it can operate at peak levels of business with half the number of people it employed pre pandemic, it must recognise and invest in those people to ensure they have the skill set required to boost productivity. People in such situations will literally be expected to do the jobs of two people. For students and lifelong learners, you have a ringside view to the monumental changes taking place in the industry, a great place and time to be in. 

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