Labor challenges, continued education, and evolving hospitality trends

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An exclusive Today’s Hotelier interview with Dean Kate Walsh, Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration

by Zohreen Ismail

There are various trends – from catering to millennials, tech explosion, labor challenges, and big data – impacting the hospitality industry. Regardless of where these trends are taking the industry, hotel owners and operators are finding one underlying trend is the key to being successful: Continued training and education.

“The hospitality industry is on fire right now and is responding to changes in the ways we work, live, and travel in all sorts of impactful ways,” says Dean Kate Walsh from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. “It’s important to ask, ‘What skill sets will we need 10 years from now for our industry to continue to be successful?’”

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The hospitality industry is shifting into communal work spaces, robotics, cryptocurrency, and more. “Hospitality is a key part of urban development plans, and as always, also a key aspect in developing countries in contributing to a solid infrastructure and job opportunities,” Walsh says.

The Cornell School of Hotel Administration is nearing its 100th anniversary and is a direct source for the recruitment of hospitality professionals and talent. “With our alumni holding key leadership roles, our school has become the hub of the industry ecosystem, and these leaders support our students in powerful ways,” Walsh says. “We have over 300 speakers who come into our classrooms each year. They partner with faculty, open up their enterprises for study, and they hire our students. Our students are so well trained, and they go into all different aspects of hospitality: Some go into operations, some are in real estate, and others go into data analytics and start-ups for hospitality.”

True hoteliers value the chances  to be of service and help another person have a great day. Walsh stresses an important factor: service experience matters. “We tell all of our potential students, service-based work experience and a reason for being at our school is something we look for in our admissions process,” Walsh says. “We want to see the essence of service in our future students.”

Individuals who have the opportunity to gain this work experience can springboard their education. “Our goal is to prepare future industry leaders and we do that through teaching skills such as emotional intelligence, cultural understandings, conceptual and strategic thinking, and data analytics,” Walsh says. “We amplify and develop an experience-based education. This combination is powerful in preparing students, and contributing to their marketability and future success. We ask students to think about how they wish to make their industry imprint.”

What would be step 1 for someone wanting to pursue a degree in hospitality?

“Obtain work experience – as much as you can and in different ways,” Walsh advises. “Then, look at the various hospitality educational programs, as they are very different. Evaluate the strengths of each one against your passion and strengths.”

Hospitality industry professionals need to have the drive to continue developing their knowledge and skills, whether they have grown up in the industry, are new to the industry, or want to expand their knowledge of all the evolving aspects that encompass hospitality. It is those individuals who will find they have an edge in keeping up with the evolving trends in the industry, Walsh says.

What feedback do students who have graduated from the hospitality school share?

“They are so grateful for the experience, especially being a part of Cornell University,” Walsh says. “They make an effort to come back as soon as they can to pay it forward. The faculty relationships they build while in school shape their careers and outlook on life. It’s very powerful and impactful.”

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