World Panel
Viewpoint18 July 2019

Is our industry lagging behind due to a lack of proper education?

Digital Marketing in Hospitality

— 17 experts shared their view

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This viewpoint was created by
Max Starkov, Adjunct Professor NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Hospitality & Online Travel Tech Consultant
Giulia Eremita
Marketing professional, speaker, lecturer and journalist in the field of Digital Tourism

The hospitality is, by definition, a “brick and mortar” business and it is still strongly identified as such. Today the shift to a “clicks and mortar” business is more than needed, from management, processes, marketing and sales, to survive in a market where competitors are more and more cross-cutting, most of them were raised and born online, therefore they have a natural advantage. The OTA distribution approach to the digital ecosystem, on one hand, was the entry level to almost 20 years ago, but most of the hoteliers did not explore any further for many reasons: lack of knowledge, higher costs, lazyness, attitude, hostility... It still very often happens to hear hotel managers blaming the online as the source of their own ills. see more

This made the hospitality not a dream place to be for a digital marketer or an IT expert.

To answer here the main question, I think that the problem here is more due to a long lasting situation of unawareness of this industry than lack of proper education. I have the feeling that the hospitality should first of all explore new management model with more hybrid profiles. For instance, Hotel of any size should start building an in-house digital agency at its core, building and sharing knowledge internally, tracking activities... They should basically start thinking and acting as an ecommerce business (as it already is). 

Successful and innovative management models will contaminate others and the best talents in digital will start looking at the hospitality as an attractive place to spend their career and invest their time. 

Peter O’Connor
Professor of Strategy at University of South Australia Business School

Speaking from an obviously biased perspective, the challenge lies not with the schools but with hotel companies (with a few major exceptions). Having invested in their education, many hospitality graduates find themselves positioned behind peers who worked their way up from the ranks because they lack 'practical experience'. Similarly, few hotel companies invest sufficiently in staff development and retention. Coupled with anti-social hours, inadequate investment in technology and bad pay, it's no wonder that good technical staff run kicking and screaming into the arms of complementary industries such as retail, where their skill sets and work ethics are highly appreciated. If hotels want good staff, bit the bullet by treating them and paying them well!  

Max Starkov
Adjunct Professor NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Hospitality & Online Travel Tech Consultant

Today's hospitality is being transformed from a real-estate industry into a 100% digital technology-enabled industry, powered by online, mobile, cloud, IoT, AI and blockchain tools and applications. Digital technology is making its way into every aspect of the industry: hotel operations, guest services and communications, revenue management, distribution, CRM and marketing. This necessitates every industry leader and manager to become a ´digital technologist´ and understand the business applications and implications of technology, in addition to hiring tens of thousands of next-generation technology experts to manage the actual technology applications and implementations.  see more

Unfortunately, today there is a clear deficit of proper technology education and professional development opportunities on digital hospitality technology and the latest technology innovations, trends and best practices. How many hospitality schools today teach hospitality technology courses? How many offer professional development courses and certifications on vital tech applications in guest facing technologies? How many boast Tech Labs to nurture tech innovations and research? Only a few. New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality launched a brand-new course on Hospitality Technology and is working on an industry-first Hospitality Tech Labs,  which is a great start to educating future hoteliers on the importance of technology in this industry.

Linchi Kwok
Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management

As more hotels and restaurants provide automatic service to customers, our industry definitely needs more workers who possess the necessary technical skills to “manage” the machines to ensure they deliver the desired outcomes. To fill such technical positions, however, I wonder if it would be easier or more effective for a hospitality company to hire someone with an engineering degree or from a vocational school. see more

If we are talking about educating our future hospitality leaders with the antiquate technological competencies, I agree that hospitality schools should work closely with the industrial experts in developing new courses and guest speaker series to cover the relevant content. Primarily driven by my unique teaching philosophy, I believe it is more important for a university professor to teach our students the “transferable skills” and inspire them to remain curious during the journey of inquiry, rather than only focusing on delivering the content of a textbook. Meanwhile, a university's role in educating our future leaders should also be adjusted accordingly (e.g., helping students develop technical and interpersonal skills and advance analytical skills, among others). 

Simone Puorto
Founder | CEO | Futurist

It saddens me, but I have to agree. I feel there are three main explanations behind the phenomenon: cognitive, academic and technical. see more

1. Cognitive: The false belief that ours is a simple industry while, on the contrary, there are infinite nuances, subtleties and complex challenges to overcome, almost daily.

2. Academic: I spend avg 500 hours/year teaching, and I am always shocked to find out that most of what these kids know about the industry comes from early '00s textbooks. How can we expect to get new ideas out of them if we keep lecturing on Search Engine Optimization, GDS and Tour Operators? I mean, c'mon...

3. Technical: When these new blood, hungry for innovation, eventually enter the industry, it's faced with the brutal reality of most travel tech companies. So, after six months spent installing on-premise PMSs, these kids become brain-dead...

So, is our industry lagging behind due to a lack of proper education? It surely is and the joke, as the mighty Bee Gees would put it, is on all of us.

Osvaldo Mauro
Entrepreneur & Business Developer

During a recent travel fair, I've asked to a well-known and internationally recognized Educational Institute if they were making any differentiation between their course for hotel Revenue Managers and Digital Marketing Managers. The lady replied, asking me if I knew what a revenue manager is. That brief exchange ended up with the fact that she didn't know what may be the hotel role of someone who takes care of digital marketing, the online distribution overall and its analytical metrics. see more

Now, opening an OTA's careers page, I randomly pick up their search for a: "Programmatic Operations Specialist". That is a person specialized in buying (through PPC real-time auctions), tuning and reporting just the kind of digital advertising named "programmatic". Apart from the nowadays importance of such type of adverting, I think that this easy parallel demonstrates that the next generation of hotelier's operators will likely not have the competences needed to make our industry compete with the online retailers/resellers. That's all folks. 

Klaus Kohlmayrsupplier view
Chief Evangelist at IDeaS Revenue Solutions

I do not think that a lack of education specifically has caused the industry to lag behind in IT innovation. While it would be very beneficial to have more educated stakeholders, the real cause is a widespread lack of early adopter culture. Here's some suggestions to ensure the adoption cycle stays on track: see more

1. In order for technology competency and leadership to create a sustainable, competitive advantage, decision makers at the property, asset management/ownership and brand levels should be aligned.

2. All stakeholders need to embrace the risk that comes with innovation and accept that failure is always a possibility throughout the process.

3. Why would a creative and innovative spirit join a culture that does not embrace both -- or even stifles it? It is important to adopt more of an entrepreneurial/start up mentality, including appropriately rewarding risk taking and innovation.

Jason Pricesupplier view
Executive Vice President at NextGuest Digital

Changing a university-level curriculum requires governing approvals with likes of an academic review committee, a board of regents, accreditation board and even state filings, plus faculty cooperation and coordination. So the lag is often just inertia, self-imposed hurdles, or unwillingness to jump on a trend until it becomes mainstream. So in some respect, we have created this problem.  see more

However, not all universities are the same and NYU has championed progressive behavior in recent years embracing and reformatting their curriculum to serve the greater good. I posed the HospitalityNet question to Lynn Minnaert, Academic Chair, Clinical Associate Professor, Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University.

Here at the Tisch Center we have implemented in the past few years:

  • Launched a hospitality technology course taught by Max Starkov 
  • Increased our focus on technology in a wide array of courses, for example, revenue management, customer relationship marketing, and marketing strategies- hosted a range of events around technology and entrepreneurship 
  • Strengthened our ties with HFTP and started a student chapter- started fundraising for an entrepreneurship lab that will be strongly focused on technology- submitted curriculum proposals on the graduate level with concentrations in hospitality/travel technology

Moreover, many schools will offer students the opportunity to expose themselves to additional technology content via minors and double majors - some of our students, for example, are taking a minor in Web Programming and Applications.

A question we could ask ourselves too is whether hospitality, as an industry, is doing enough to appeal to students in Computer Science - some technical positions that are open would perhaps be more appropriately filled by students of that major. Are salaries for those positions on par with what other industries are offering? We have recently launched a minor in hospitality for students in other majors, which we hope will drive more interest in hospitality employers. 

Ian Millar
Professor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

No, is it really for hotel management schools to be training IT people? Hotels do not employ people to be their engineers who have been educated at a hotel school; IT is too technical. What we need is to be recruiting people with IT skills first. Then the role of a hotel school should have is a crash course on what hospitality IS. How it works, what are the processes? So a sort of hospitality 101 for IT professionals.

Martin Soler
Partner at Soler & Associates

Education always helps, but I think the problem lies a little deeper. Lack of imagination. Hotels are brick and mortar businesses that deal with people. Technology isn't exactly on the top of the list when it comes to making a great hotel and guest experience. Look at the top luxury hotels and technology isn't the main focus. It is more important to hire great people with excellent communication skills who are friendly and not afraid of speaking to guests in the right way at the right time. see more

Technology can alleviate many issues but it doesn't fix great people. Today very little technology is really addressing the core value propositions of a hotel. Most are focused on generating quick revenue and those that aren't are "nice to haves" there is still hardly any link being done between having the right technology and the core values of a hotel. 

But then maybe we've educated the industry into thinking all technology exists to increase immediate revenue, which is possible and also a little sad. 

Paul Van Meerendonksupplier view
Director - Advisory Services at IDeaS Revenue Optimization

Hospitality schools have always been extremely good at Hospitality focused courses. There are only a handful of schools globally that have made significant progress on anything close to hospitality IT, analytics, revenue science or digital marketing. The reason for this is simple - running a hotel operationally well is very different than distributing or marketing a hotel. This divergence between operations and commercial/IT (distribution, revenue, IT, etc. falling underneath this) is apparent in the industry - with centralized commercial/IT functions becoming ever more commonplace. In education, there is yet to be this split between operational and commercial/IT focus.  see more

The solution here is surely that as an industry we need to stop thinking that hospitality focused educational institutions will be the main and only source of the commercial/IT experts of the future. Surely we need to be looking at commercial/IT focused educational institutions also for the best and brightest talent for these functions. Do BMW or General Motors get their commercial/IT experts from an engineering educational institution? 

Some hospitality schools are bucking the trend and have made the right investments in this area, but they should not be our only source of talent for the future. Let's bring in the right people from the right institutions for the right roles - this will be the best way for the industry to innovate and stay ahead when it comes to technology. 

Larry Mogelonsky
Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

I cannot vouch for the estimated shortfall in positions, but I agree that the hospitality industry has a significant educational void that needs to be closed. I've audited the curriculum of a few hotel schools tied to respected universities. I was appalled at the lack of course materials dedicated to technological advances in our industry. And why is this so? Simply this: the past five plus years have seen a radical expansion in available tech tools for the hotelier. It is challenging for hotels to keep up with these innovations, even with a robust IT department. How can educators be expected to do so when they have not time (or budget) to attend shows like HITEC or HTNG?

Frederic Gonzalo
Travel & Hospitality expert. Digital Marketing & Strategy Speaker and Consultant

Our industry is certainly lagging behind, but I don't believe this is something unique or exclusive to hospitality. For one thing, the labor shortage is an industry-wide problem across North America, and stems from a wider issue related to salaries, benefits competitiveness, demographics, etc.
see more

When it comes to IT and digital positions however, the problem lies in the fact that educational institutions simply cannot adapt to the speed of evolution that comes with this new reality. Could there be better degrees with courses providing enlarged depth and breadth around technology and digital marketing? Absolutely. But I believe institutions can and should focus of giving the basics for strategic thinking, while the tactical applications and best practices will most likely be learned and applied in the real world, i.e. on the job!

Conferences, workshops and online tutorials are probably what works best at this stage to address this need, as it doesn't require the complex and rigid approvals that unfortunately go with academic structures and processes...

Daniel E. Craig
Founder, Reknown

The challenge with labour in the hotel industry is turnover is high—reaching 73.8% in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hotel companies are therefore reluctant to invest in training. “What if we train them and they leave?” they worry. The bigger concern should be, “What if we don't train them and they stay?” see more

Many hotel marketers work their way up with no formal training in marketing. One day the word “marketing” is slapped onto your title and you must learn on the job. (That's how it worked for me.)

Today's hotel marketers must be creative and analytical, strategic and tactical. They must stay current on technology, trends and best practices and have an eye for good design and an ear for effective messaging. In short, they must excel with words, visuals and numbers.

Keeping those skills sharp requires training and upskilling. But college curriculum isn't always current or relevant to hotel marketing. A lot of learning must be self-directed, through customized training and mentoring from industry experts, attending conferences and webinars, and tapping in to the wealth of industry materials available online.

If marketers wish to reach the top of their field, they must commit to lifelong learning, and they need an employer that will support them along the way.

Mark Fancourt
Co-Founder at TRAVHOTECH

The topic of education in hospitality is always an interesting one as it is so often the first casualty of financial performance. Technology education appears to lower the priority further. Buyers often complain about the volume of education recommended to successfully deploy a technology, seeking ways to whittle down education investment. Yet, quick to react when adoption into the business of a new technology is challenged. Ask any vendor company how often they can secure commitment from customers for ongoing education and updates to feature functionality. Even while the complaints roll in that the technology does not satisfy the needs of the operation, despite the required capability existing in the tool. see more

The end result is is that such a self destructive approach negatively impacts the two most important stakeholders - the staff and the guest. Over time, and sometimes not that long, a very good technology ends up being replaced because it 'doesn't work'.

There is no substitute for education. Education directly impacts adoption and influences retaining of the technology by the customer. 

As our industry shifts from capital based models to SaaS based models all parties will do well to heed the necessity for continued education. As it is oft highlighted it's much easier to remove a SaaS based deployment.

We can argue over the mediums and delivery mechanisms. At the end of the day the only way to avoid rapid wash-down of a knowledge base is to continually educate. There are no shortcuts. Fail to continually educate - fail to maximise the opportunities through technology assets - fail to be as effective and efficient in the operation. This is where industry falls behind.

Education institutions have a role to play in the introduction of technology to aspiring young hoteliers. However, it's not possible to have every technology used in industry on hand. Tool introduction needs to extend well beyond the traditional PMS and POS to other across operational tools regularly found in industry today. More importantly young hoteliers need to learn about the strategic approach of technology and the role technology is intended to play in a business environment. Many students move into management over time and technology, while so fundamental to success in a modern hospitality industry, has been largely overlooked as an important management discipline for a well rounded hotelier. There is room for improvement and focus.

Finally, young hoteliers need to learn the skill of process engineering and optimization. The reality is that technology is the operational process and good management needs to be constantly scrutinizing operational excellence and the adoption of tools to run a better business. Teach them young to have an inquiring mind and a view toward constant improvement.

If there truly is demand for technology professionals in the industry, that is indeed good news and perhaps a telling statement for the industry. It wasn't that long ago that many operators determined that technology could run quite nicely without industry technology resources - wholesale removal from industry. Perhaps some growing up has taken place and it is now appreciated that all aspects of a business require capable and knowledgeable custodians in scale with the breadth and business impact of technology deployed in industry.

Erik Muñozsupplier view
Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at

From a revenue management perspective, we see a shortage of experienced revenue managers in many destinations, which has fuelled the rise of educational and consultancy services in this niche sector of the hospitality business. see more

We see this situation as an opportunity to support and involve other hospitality professionals (hotel manager, reservations manager, e-distribution manager, sales, marketing) in the core revenue management functions of their hotel business.

Technology should adapt and be designed in a way so that inexperienced and expert users alike, can benefit from the solution.  Suppliers of hotel IT and digital marketing services could look at the labour shortage as an opportunity to adapt and evolve their service offering for a different type of user.

Ross McAlpinesupplier view
Director, Client Services at Vizergy

Addressing education and training is critical to any labor shortage and I believe that most marketing degrees are out of date with the actual skill set for a marketing position in today's online world. A digital marketing role should ideally cover a broad mix of data and analytics, content writing, technical SEO/SEM best practices, budgeting and brand strategy. Every one of those areas could see significant changes to best practices within a 12 month period of time based on legislative changes like website accessibility, GDPR or a new Google Algorithm update so it's no surprise that educators have a hard time keeping course content up to date! I think there's so much more scope for collaboration with technology providers and agencies who specialize in this work who could help educators to teach at the forefront of digital marketing best practices. see more

There are also many experienced hospitality marketers looking to pivot their careers towards a digital focus or experienced digital marketers from other industries looking to change industry and move into hospitality. Hotel industry associations should play a greater role in facilitating that career shift towards digital via training and certification programs.

If we can address the skills shortage I believe the rate of adoption for marketing technology and innovation will increase as digital marketers would be better trained and equipped to successfully deploy their marketing technology stack to suit their overall strategy and commercial goals.