Fostering the destination ecosystem at home and abroad

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by Dawn Sweeney
President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association

Hospitality is the business of welcoming people, and today it means opening our doors to guests from across the globe. Dubai International Airport – not LAX or Heathrow – is now the world’s busiest airport. With more than 75 million international travelers visiting the U.S. each year, and a record number of Americans embarking on trips abroad, opportunities for growth in our industry are strong.

The globetrotting trend is good news for hoteliers and restaurateurs alike. But as every town from Homestead, Florida to Sitka, Alaska, hunts the tourism dollar, our companies can best thrive if we collaborate in creating and promoting attractive “destination ecosystems” – the combination of hospitality businesses that make a particular spot irresistibly inviting.

Sometimes lodging and restaurant partnerships will be formal, as when prominent chefs open eateries inside hotels. The profitability of these arrangements is rising, with another year of 5 percent annual growth in the forecast. Traditionally, the cooperation is informal as guests and hotel employees talk about preferences and desired experiences.

Today’s consumers demand convenience and variety. Traditional room service has been joined by grab-and-go kiosks and takeout delivered by third parties. While hotel restaurants are pulling in more locals, visitors are asking the concierge for adventurous recommendations for dining out. Fostering choices is to our mutual benefit.

That is because we are competing against some formidable market players. Home-sharing options available through companies like Airbnb demand that we answer as only we can – with exemplary service and unbeatable experiences customized to each traveler.

Essential to the success of this recipe is our workforce. Regardless of whether an employee joins a pub or an inn, the required skillset includes professionalism, positivity, communication abilities, and leadership. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is helping to develop the talent our sector needs with programs like ProStart. This hands-on learning and mentorship opportunity teaches students culinary, service, and management skills. We reach 140,000 young people each year in more than 1,800 high schools across the U.S., Guam, and U.S. Department of Defense schools in Europe and the Pacific.

We are also collaborating with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the U.S. Department of Labor on the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship program. Through this initiative, we’ll be training more than 1,000 managers and adding 2,500 apprentices within three years.

A critical next step will be enhancing our appeal to workers. In many ways, hospitality was the original “gig economy,” known for flexible schedules that empower employees to hold down a rewarding job while also going to school, raising a family, or pursuing a hobby or a dream. It is incumbent on us to demonstrate to the next generation workforce that a career in hospitality can put the world at their fingertips.

Today, it is exciting to witness so many cities, small towns, and remote outposts finding their identities and marketing their offerings to both nearby neighbors and visitors from abroad. The hospitality industry’s homegrown jobs are now built into economies around the globe, and our local ties will only deepen as we work together to promote unique destinations to an expanding world of travelers.

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