Editorial
Georges Panayotis' column

25 July 2017

It is possible to lose a battle, but don't be surprised...

Georges Panayotis

Throughout any revolution - whether it be industrial or technological, or any other for that matter - two worlds cohabit and there is generally some friction. There are innovative enterprises that are not weighed down by the past and the weight of transformation, and there are more traditional activities that are faced with new challenges, particularly human ones, and struggle to make the right decisions.

What heavy industries are currently experiencing is making the top stories on the 8 o'clock news due to the extent of the social impact. The companies' employees are all experiencing individual dramas as they had no reason to question their situation for some twenty or thirty years. The shock is especially harsh when possibilities for reconversion are slow to present themselves. The Government can only limit damage and accompany a relentless exit from the working world.

While it may be more pernicious, the work situation in the hotel industry is no less risky. The collision of the two worlds, one that provokes the rupture and the other that is subject to it, is less brutal but just as real. However, there doesn't seem to be full awareness of this. The steady development of tourism and hospitality could lead one to imagine that job creation is permanent. Hotel and management schools are producing more generations of collaborators with promises that career evolution is guaranteed for those who successfully climb the social ladder or hop on the social elevator.

But they rapidly need to assess the future of these jobs if they don't want to find themselves in the same situation as their elders in the industry. In a service activity that is very dependent on the human factor, behavioral changes of customers, the change in concepts that adapt to new expectations will upset the definition of hotel functions. The traditional chain of tourist services will be brought into question by the technological evolution in transportation, information and promotion. Did anyone really anticipate this happening?

The multiplication of applications that give customers autonomy; the apparition of automatic check-in/out terminals, robots and other self-serve innovations are seen as temporary assistance, but it is just the beginning of a revolution. Tomorrow artificial intelligence will bring a new dimension to customer relations, doing away with all useless interactions with front desk or reservation services. 

The economic model for hotel operations needs to gain in productivity, lighten charges, simplify procedures… technology appears to be an interesting direction to take when 50% of the gross operating incomes is absorbed by social taxes. But does that mean there is no future in hospitality professions? Is it necessary to accept as inevitable the fact that 50% of young hospitality graduates left the sector just two years after graduating? The new major challenge faced by management is undoubtedly avoiding any aggravation of social unease.

Some committed themselves to this indispensable consideration to redefine the role of of each, to implement new recruitment methods, so hospitality staff may actively participate in the customer experience, the latest trend. Tourism growth can not be based only on low-cost; it also needs to be based on a quest for added value that can only be provided by the quality of service in hospitality. Today, few businesses have a clear vision of their growth strategy within a context that is changing. It is time to develop one urgently. 

Younger generations will be better prepared to adapt to new functions through conviviality, versatility and proximity as well as technicality. But over all, our industry must also implement the transition within hotel enterprises. Concepts age quickly. In an already distant past, innovations such as Novotel were able to maintain a ten-year advance while today products must constantly renew themselves as 'copy and paste' accelerates. Continuing professional training throughout life shows its full meaning here. It must happen before it's too late, before entire generations are put out to pasture because the changes were not foreseen. Fortunately, it would appear that the Government is ready to invest 50 billion euros to finance continuing education. Now that's a truly exciting subject to pick up on quickly to show that a thousands-year-old industry is able to project itself into modernity.

Publication director