By Sarah Campbell
Hotel companies are realising it is not just guests that need to be wowed, as staff training goes upbeat and interactive in a big to raise service levels and empower staff.
|~|TrainingL.jpg|~|Training sessions at Marriott are often chaotic, but the lessons are learnt, according to Kaas.|~|Incentive programmes and staff energisers have long been staple business for the hotel industry. However, nowadays more and more hotels are taking time, and meeting space, out of inventory to focus on staff motivation and service attitudes.
The industry is fast realising that it is the people, and not the surroundings, that makes a good hotel great, and training programmes that focus on elevating mood and creating a collective ‘positive mental attitude’ are being rolled out at hotels across the globe to improve staff attitudes.
Marriott International rolled out its ‘Spirit to Serve’ training a couple of years ago, and its effect was felt across the company. The initial programme involved Marriott staff of all levels role-playing regular hotel experiences, showing poor and excellent service attitudes. In effect, line staff were training line staff, and while fun was had by all, service levels in Marriott hotels also improved.
In the Middle East, regional trainer Gary Kaas was responsible for introducing a Spirit to Serve energiser, firstly in Kuwait and then to Marriott properties in Dubai, last year. As cluster director of training for Marriott International in Dubai, Kaas has brought his own energetic style of training to the region.
“We spend a lot of time training our associates. If our associates are going to deliver outstanding service they must receive outstanding training — it is that simple,” Kaas maintains.
“Just like all our competitors, we at Marriott believe that if a customer has a poor experience in one of our properties they will not want to come back; if all their expectations were met – they will have had a good time but may be in doubt whether to return or not. However, if they have been WOWed they will have had a great time and will definitely be eager to come back, re-live the experience and demand more. Well, the way I look at in-house training is exactly the same way.
“If associates have a poor experience in the training room they will not want to come back. However, if they have been WOWed they will have had a great time and will definitely be eager to come back, re-live the experience and demand more,” he says.
Kass’ training classes are often noisy, erratic and, at first hand, appear chaotic. As part of the Spirit to Serve energiser he gets associates standing on chairs, breaking planks of wood, lifting colleagues over their heads, and swinging pendulums using nothing more than will power. What does this have to do with hospitality? Quite a lot. It is all about positive thinking, understanding other people, and working as a team.
“A very senior trainer in our company says, ‘there is no such thing as a boring subject, but there are plenty of boring trainers’. Using this as a stimulus NOT to fall into that trap I ensure I am always positive, upbeat and interactive and that our training sessions include at least one WOW and possibly something a little unique. Again, just what our guests want to see in our associates,” Kaas explains.
“I dabble between Neuro Linguistic Processing (NLP) and experiential learning. I find this fits hand in glove with hotel operations training. The key is to always ask what happened there and reflect it back to the workplace. If a couple of weeks after a class you stop and ask a participant what do you remember and they say ‘Oh yes, that was the class where we had to lie down, put a bottle on our foreheads and stand up without touching it. It was really great’, then you dig deeper, ‘why did you do that, what was the message?’ if the participant does not know, they have had a great time with the learning activities but they have not remembered the lessons — this was not a successful class,” Kaas warns.
Marriott is not the only hotel company to be investing time and effort in motivational training. Most hotel chains offer a range of programmes depending on the different tiers of staff. Shangri-La Hotels has its Shangri-La Care and The Shangri-La Way training programmes, which are open to all staff levels.
“Apart from that, we do provide different leadership programmes and management development programmes. The latest we have launched for all management staff is the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey,” says training manager, Shangri-La Hotel Dubai, Sharon Dhaliwal.
“We also provide a very successful performance management programme based on four modules that have to be attended by all managers and supervisors. Over and above all these, every division has department specific programmes related to their own area of expertise,” she adds.
At the moment, the most talked about training programme at the hotel is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is conducted internally, and has brought about changes in managerial effectiveness, according to Dhaliwal.
“Hotel training now has to relate a lot more to the return on investment. Investors and shareholders are in a much better position to provide a healthy budget for training and development, and support it if they are confident there is a return on investment,” she says.
“Apart from that, potential candidates are also looking for career development and succession planning, rather that just moving on and climbing up the ladder as and when there is an opportunity. Career development today is more targeted towards competency rather that age maturity.”
Away from the hotel, and educational academies in the region are also focusing in on hotel-related training. Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, in academic association with Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, will celebrate its first year of graduates on its ASc and BSc courses this year.
Opened in October 2001, the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management is part of the Jumeirah International hotel group. Established as a place of higher education, offering degree-level courses, it is the first major academy focusing on tourism and hospitality education at university level in the Middle East.
Ron Hilvert, principal of the academy, is confident that over 90% of the first year graduates will go on to find positions working in the hotel sector in Dubai or the UAE.
“We currently have 170 undergraduate students, increasing to over 250 in October 2005; 55% from overseas and 45% from families living in the UAE. Of the overseas students, the major nationalities are Norway, Germany, India, Sweden, and Lebanon, with a 50/50 divide between male and female students,” says Hilvert.
Traditional programmes, including customer service and culinary skills, remain the most popular with students, says Hilvert. Finance, Advanced F&B Management, Menu Engineering, Yield Management, English Language, Man Management, and Wines and Spirits Education are also in demand.
In addition to its degree courses, the Emirates Academy also offers Professional Development programmes, which comprises of a number of modules developed to meet specific needs identified as being of importance to middle and senior managers in the hospitality and tourism industry.
These modules may be taken on a stand-alone basis to achieve a set of specific individual learning outcomes. A web forum provides a vital element to these programmes, and at present the academy has 20 regular clients from the hospitality industry, airlines, hospitals, schools and local government.
Similar to the Emirates Academy, the Baisan Institute of Hospitality Management (BIHM) in Bahrain is linked to a hotel group. The institute is part of the Dadabhai Group of Companies, which also owns Elite Group of hotels, suites and residences.
“As one of the world’s fastest growing tourism markets, the Middle East will see demand for skilled hospitality professionals growing exponentially and the supply to the industry of high caliber professionals will become a top priority,” says Qutub Dadabhai, managing director of BIHM.
“Training abroad is not only cost prohibitive but also counter productive. Also, Middle Eastern hospitality has a distinctive flavour, which international institutes cannot easily impart,” he explains.
BIHM offers customised yet internationally recognised courses, and is ISO certified. The institute has successfully trained and placed more than 1,500 students. BIHM is currently in discussions to launch a franchise center in Kuwait, in association with the MAREFA Education Company in Kuwait, which is scheduled to open in August.
Meanwhile, the National Hospitality Institute (NHI) in Oman is celebrating 10 years of business this year. The educational establishment now takes in over 500 students per year, most of whom come from Oman.
December 2004 saw the opening of the new Gulf Chef School at the institute. This new division of NHI now offers courses to existing workers rather than just fresh trainees. Chefs who have 2-3 years of experience in the industry can register for a day release programme, which takes 18 months.||**||