COVID-19 has brought the hotel industry’s powers of creativity into sharp relief. The innovations introduced during the pandemic have been simply astonishing, especially as the industry is heading into a period of structural transformation. The market is being segmented by new business models, while new technology is accelerating the shift to a digital economy.
Value creation in the tourism and hospitality industry is now more reliant than ever before on its ability to innovate and on technological prowess. These will be critical elements in the training of the industry leaders of the future. Indeed, new job opportunities are already arising for the next generation of highly-qualified managers. They will be technologically proficient leaders able to think conceptually about and employ state-of-the-art technologies to bring traditional hospitality into the new digital age.
Looking back, we can see that technology spawned the emergence of new business models 60 years ago. The first “electronic” booking systems kickstarted the integration of the major hotel chains. Four decades later, online travel agencies (OTNs) such as Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia disrupted what was still an offline industry by establishing their platforms for the general public. As things stand in 2021, the tourism and hospitality industry needs to retake control of its future.
Keenly aware of what is up for grabs, hotel operators have been joining forces with start-ups. Our academy has itself established a business incubator open to our students and also to disruptive external start-ups. Other examples include the development of chatbots and artificial intelligence that are reshaping the customer experience, virtual reality for marketing applications, robotic assistance for catering and service operations, and blockchain, which is expected to play a major role in booking processes and loyalty programs.
We believe innovation and digital education must feature on the curriculum at the leading hotel management training schools. Les Roches introduced this change two years ago. At the same time, we adopted a digital-enabled teaching approach, with a virtual platform backing up our traditional face-to-face sessions. As things turned out, that enabled us to move all our courses online for our students in over 100 countries just three days after the surprise lockdown announcement in March 2020.
Today, we are delighted to hear “innovation” come up so frequently in our discussions, whereas the most common byword perhaps used to be “tradition”. While one cannot replace the other in our industry, we note that hotel brands – starting with the most prestigious groups who employ half our graduates – can no longer afford to overlook digital skills and capabilities. Given that these hotel brands have struggled to get to grips with the digital world by instinct alone, fabulous career opportunities exist for hotel management graduates with a solid grounding in technology.