Now is right time for hospitality industry in Africa to manage its growth - expert

Achim Schmitt (Supplied)
Achim Schmitt (Supplied)

The hospitality industry in Africa is at the right moment to ask how it wants to manage its growth, said Achim Schmitt, associate dean of graduate programmes at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) in Switzerland - one of the top-rated hotel management schools in the world.

Schmitt was one of the international experts taking part in the Tourism, Hotel Investment and Networking Conference (THINC) Africa 2018 in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“People always say growth is good, but in the hospitality industry it is not so easy to manage the performance of growing companies,” he explained.

Schmitt also cautioned against a mere copy-and-paste approach of using examples from abroad in the African hospitality industry. One must consider what customers want and on that level, Africa has a unique opportunity.

Three important trends

According to Schmitt, there are three important trends to be aware of in the hospitality industry.

Firstly, it is becoming all about technology and big data.

“The message for Africa is about how to create infrastructure, connected networks and connected information,” said Schmitt.

“The more you know about your client, the more you can serve him or her. It is a continuous renewal process. Of course, it raises the question of who would be willing to carry the first up-front investment cost for this kind of infrastructure.”

The second trend he mentioned is the rise of the new millennials – both as travellers and as employees.

From a traveller point of view, these millennials do not like a copy-and-paste approach. They want authenticity – an approach which does not always lends itself to the ability to scale.

From an employer standpoint, research shows that, while an average employee had four to six job changes over a period of 20 years, millennials could have on average six job changes already in the first three to five years of their working career.

“Imagine the training costs in the hospitality industry due to millennials changing jobs so often,” said Schmitt.

The third important trend he raised is sustainability. This is especially important in Africa with its sensitive ecosystem.

"You do not want 25 000 people going up Table Mountain each day, for instance," he said.

"There is a certain saturation point when you see that variables do not add up any more. I would rather not focus on a scaling approach that is uncontrollable. Now is a good time for companies Africa to ask these questions in the hospitality industry."

Scale, but...

He agrees that scale is important, but, on the other hand companies must also make sure they stay flexible - quite a challenging task as one does not know what might happen in the hospitality industry in 10 to 15 years' time.

"I am just not sure that a one-size-fits all approach will pay off in 20 years' time," he said.

"At EHL we benchmark a lot of graduate programmes. The industry needs flexibility and a level of understanding education needs. It becomes a life-long learning process for those involved in the hospitality industry. That is why we also offer online programmes."

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