How to learn your way to the top in hospitality

Benoît-Etienne Domenget argues that the fast-evolving hospitality industry offers rich potential for individuals, and employers, who can master the art of talent development.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

Hospitality professionals, and their employers, need to reconsider their approach to talent development to help them take advantage of opportunities in an industry which already accounts for one in ten jobs on the planet and is forecast to rise to one in nine by 2028 – by which time hospitality will offer more than 400m jobs.

When we think of hospitality, we often think of the most visible public-facing staff working in hotels and restaurants, but actually this ever-growing profession means an increasing need for supporting skills in areas such as finance, human resources, marketing, leadership, owner management, corporate governance, entrepreneurship, and innovation and technology, and different approaches to learning on the job.


Because make no mistake, this is a time of unprecedented career opportunities for anyone who has the skills the industry seeks. The drivers for growth are everywhere. The world is better connected than ever, opening up travel and leisure opportunities that were unthinkable a generation or two ago.

In addition, travel and tourism is increasingly seen as a winning formula for developing countries, as well as governments seeking to diversify economies away from dependence on natural resources.

So how can ambitious hospitality professionals acquire the hard and soft skills to step up the career ladder?

As an example, let’s focus on the hotel general manager (GM) who sits at the heart of any successful hospitality operation. As hotels and resorts multiply, so does the need for high-quality GMs to run them. And when those excellent GMs move up to area manager or COO roles, still further vacancies will be created.

Make no mistake, this is a time of unprecedented career opportunities for anyone who has the skills the industry seeks.

It won’t be enough just to try to fill GM roles by poaching from the competition – and in any case that is a risky and expensive game to play. Instead, hotel operators need to look to ‘grow their own’: to identify the operational department heads (rooms division, front of house, etc) who can be given the tools to step up successfully.

This is not some vague notion of lifelong learning. It requires a highly focused, skills-driven approach centred on a specific talent development/succession planning challenge. Hotel GMs need a portfolio of skills to do their job effectively.

This includes ‘soft’ skills such as leadership, change management and relationship-building. Equally it must incorporate ‘hard’ business skills like asset and revenue management, strategic business planning, and so on. 

Adopting a bespoke, portfolio approach to talent development means companies are not forced to over-invest in particular individuals. It also avoids having to combine useful learning with covering repeated – or unnecessary – ground just because it comes with the package.


Bespoke learning is crucial to fostering the building block approach we refer to. And it represents an investment worth making, particularly for the millennial generation which now accounts for the largest portion of the global workforce.

According to a survey commissioned by Bridge, 86% of millennials said that providing career training and development would maintain their loyalty. Moreover, in the United States at least, government data indicates that millennials are no less loyal as employees than their GenX forebears.

This is important to keep in mind at a time in which we are constantly told that millennial employees are inveterate job-hoppers. Overcoming this misconception gives comfort that money spent on learning and development for millennials is a wise investment.

So, if the case for a strategic approach to talent management is virtually unanswerable, how do you identify the skills gaps that need filling? There’s a big obligation on the individual employee to plot and lead their own learning journey. Equally, organisations need to put somebody in charge of those journeys, to work with the employees to prioritise and deliver on their training needs.

In hospitality, we expect our people to make an emotional connection with customers and guests. The other side of that coin is that learning and development professionals need to offer the same level of personal interaction and understanding to their fellow employees.

Because ultimately, if you don’t look after the developmental needs of your people, then someone else will.


About the author

Benoît-Etienne Domenget is CEO of Sommet Education, a group encompassing Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education.


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