When I got my start as a receptionist in a big international hotel, people often surprised me with their comments. “How marvellous!” They said. “What an amazing job!” My friends, not yet acquainted with the stark realities of full-time work, pictured me living a hedonistic lifestyle with the rich and famous. One of them predicted that I would be seduced by an American divorcee within a year.
Many years on, I’m still dealing with plenty of misconceptions about the industry. The funny thing is, they’re not limited to people on the outside. Many are perpetuated by owners and operators themselves—and the effect is almost always bad for business. Here are a few examples:
"The hospitality industry is glamorous.”
If you’re working in large hotels or famous restaurants, you probably will find yourself mixing with celebrities at some point, or standing at the centre of a major event—but the vast majority of the time, it’s just hard work. Consider the housekeeping staff who cleans up after wild parties, incontinent guests and large families. Consider the bartenders who have to deny drinks to belligerent guests with big biceps. The truth is, around 90% of all hospitality workers are in unglamorous roles. So if you’re interested in high society and glamour, but don’t like hard work and being nice to people, then you’re better off in a different industry!
"There’s big money to be made.”
Without a doubt, some owners and operators make good money—but if you’re looking for an easy path to riches, hospitality will surely disappoint. Most people choose this industry because they like dealing with customers, and if they can make some money along the way, so much the better.
Back in the day, when I led courses for people who wanted to start their own catering business or café, I couldn’t believe the motivation I came across. Many people were getting involved because a) they liked cooking, b) their friends said they should open a café, and c) they wanted to make a lot of money. Statistically speaking, those are the folks most likely to be chewed up and spit out by the industry. Success comes only when passion for people and service are paramount.
"It’s a simple, straightforward business.”
Most people outside the hospitality industry don’t understand the skill required to navigate within it. I’ve heard people say it isn’t rocket science, and they’re correct—but winning enterprises are highly methodical. They’re built on the fundamentals of good staff, effective systems and regular training. Why do large companies charge a premium to open a franchise? Because the model almost guarantees success when followed closely. Independent operators replicate their own systems for the same reason. They know the value of a calculated, measurable approach.
“The Latest Technology is All-Important.”
Hotels that have state-of-the-art Wi-Fi, television, and resource-saving technology do have strategic advantages over those who keep a single router in the lobby and tube sets in the rooms. But glitz and gadgetry aren’t everything. Innovation gives way to further innovation, while the human touch is perennial. Staff that is trained, friendly and engaged will always be the most important asset in the hospitality industry. Bells and whistles are nice; but they only help when fundamentals are strong. That means knowing how to create and keep a winning team.
“A Quick Fix Can Turn the Ship Around.”
I’ve seen it a hundred times. The property is struggling, the margins are narrowing and the owners are panicking. They try to solve the problem with a quick renovation, a slipshod re-branding effort, or cutting the rates. This approach rarely works. Sure, a miraculous 180 is ideal for any struggling property—but truly turning the ship around requires a careful manipulation of the sails. In other words, you need detailed strategy and long-term planning.
The list of misconceptions, unfortunately, does go on. But these are enough to demonstrate a few important lessons. Be methodical, think long-term, and base your operations on fundamentals like people and training. These will steer owners and operators toward greater realism, predictability and success within the hospitality industry.
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