World Panel
Viewpoint 3 February 2020

Do hospitality schools deliver the talent you are looking for today?

C-SUITE World Panel

— 11 C-Suite executives shared their view

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Do hospitality schools deliver the talent you are looking for today?
This viewpoint was created by
David Sherwyn, Professor of Law at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
This viewpoint is co-created with IDeaS, Inc.
Michael Levie
COO and Founding Partner at citizenM

Hotel or business school and academic education in conjunction with skill is a very logical discussion. Hotel and business schools differ some in education but aren't completely foreign or strangers to each other. To a certain extent, the hotel school will always prepare students better in general for the hospitality industry, due to the specialization of courses. see more

It is also a fact that hotel companies are moving away from generalist and focus on specialists. Some specializations currently needed in the hospitality industry are neither taught at hotels or business schools. So, hotel schools still definitely have a leg up in most positions needed for hospitality, but not all.

Where skill will always play a vital role for the hospitality, “character” might even play a bigger role. Character and skill are two very different competencies, with the clear distinction that skill can be taught where character can't.

The hospitality industry is in major need of “character”, individuals that can create/deliver/institutionalize culture. In a process-oriented industry where the majority of the jobs are executed by minimally educated labor it can't survive without character/culture.

So, possibly the real question is what is more important for the hospitality industry skill or character, I would say it is a toss-up...skill without character or character without skill, both fall way short of what is required to get the job done. Specialized skill is an answer to a small subsection of jobs, but without character will neither deliver what is needed.

Bill Walshe
CEO at Viceroy Hotel Group

We no longer focus on recruitment from only hospitality schools. We did years ago, but it has become an open and even field for applicants with all backgrounds. We hire candidates for their cultural fit over the hotel education and experience they may or may not have. Someone with a business school or other degree has the same chance of success with Viceroy as someone from a hospitality program. see more

Hotel school students are taught to embrace service, but we've seen a growing number of graduates from traditional top schools with less interest in the operation and execution of that service. Instead they are focused on jobs in revenue, finance and asset management, which have direct competition from business schools.

Generations entering the work force are seeking companies they believe in and who they are proud to work for over the industry they work in. Finding candidates who identify with and embrace our Ideology are a large factor in our hiring decisions. It's not to say that hotel schools are not still delivering talented candidates, but it's not the primary focus of our hiring decisions.

Heather McCrory
CEO of North & Central America at Accor

We recruit for roles in both the “hospitality business” and the “business of hospitality” and look to talent pools in both hospitality schools and business schools, accordingly. Candidates are always considered by their credentials, and by their likelihood to be a fit with our brands. Soft skills, such as emotional intelligence and leadership potential are also a part of that equation. As a result, the majority of our recruits come from Hospitality Schools, where guest service and emotional intelligence is a focus. see more

We've also done research that confirms that careers in the hospitality industry don't resonate as much with business school graduates, finding that unless the students had already worked in hospitality and understood the wide range of excellent professional opportunities, there was either a degree of trepidation or disinterest about entering into a career that can be so publicly facing.

As I moved through my career, I learned both the hard and soft skills needed in each position. Once I moved to a corporate role, I decided to go back and complete an MBA. I specifically chose a business school program for the broader scope of the curriculum.  Not surprisingly, the core business skills are transferable across all business.  We need to ensure the business schools are aware of our industry as a viable career option for their graduates.

Our mission at Accor globally is to ensure more women move into more senior roles—General Manager roles and above— through our global RiiSe program, with my personal goal of seeing 50% women GMs by 2023 in North and Central America. These candidates have to have core business knowledge, in addition to their leadership and customer service orientation, and we're encouraging more of our high potential female leaders to actively build those skills through on the job learning and formal education. 

Career paths are not always straight! Fundamentally, we will always welcome the best talent for our business, regardless of their educational stream, where there's a fit and competency.

Federico J. González
President & CEO, Radisson Hospitality AB

At Radisson Hotel Group, we have always maintained and fostered our strong relationships and bonds with the best in class universities and hotel schools that are nurturing a culture of excellence, all over the world. As hotel schools and universities have decades of experience in educating and training students, we trust that their students will have the technical skills and knowledge required to work in our hotels and offices.  see more

For us, what then makes a difference is attitude! The thing we appreciate the most is the service attitude of candidates, which fits in very well with our Yes I Can! service and Every Moment Matters philosophy. On the other hand, we are also strengthening and developing our relationships with traditional universities and business schools across the world. Especially when it comes to hiring for more corporate positions. So today, we are convinced that a good balance of talents from hotel schools as well as business schools and universities is one of the things that give our company a competitive advantage in terms of competencies.

Marloes Knippenberg
CEO of Kerten Hospitality

“In my experience, hospitality schools do pretty well in differentiating themselves from general business education. When I meet hospitality graduates, whether through the panels I participate in or our Talent Tank internship program, I've generally been impressed by their astute approach and the meaningful connection they have with the 'real' world compared to general business graduates. see more

We're definitely seeing a changing tide, with schools starting to embrace – and in some cases 'own' – key areas such as innovation, technology and sustainability. There is real value in this for the industry but I would also like to see graduates coming to us having had more exposure to the concept of wider asset value, and Hospitality Management versus Hotel Management.

There should be a stronger accent on value creation for owners, developers, and there should be a stronger focus on creating new style customer journeys, with the ability to keep on changing this. From retail to technology and training, to new ways of managing human capital and alternative business solutions, it is something that is still "add on", while in my view, this should in essence become the heart of a curriculum. In a dynamic business such as Kerten Hospitality, this is particularly important as things move at such a fast pace and we're always looking for new talent who can hit the ground running and adapt to ever-changing situations. And last but not least, it's time to relook at the uniform rules at these schools, the reality is that the industry is moving away from this and instead adopting a more personal and customized approach; let's connect with reality.”

Jay Stein
Chief Executive Officer at Dream Hotel Group

In short, the answer is yes…to some degree. It may be that for a long time we weren't looking at the right schools. In our experience, the top hospitality schools like Cornell and NYU are not putting out students who are looking for entry level managerial positions. We're finding much greater success with smaller hospitality schools and specialty programs at Johnson & Wales, Florida International University, New York City College of Technology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Michigan State, Penn State and even some of the community colleges. see more

We believe it's the smaller, less prestigious and more localized schools that are feeding the industry today – at least in the case of Dream Hotel Group. We've had great success in identifying highly motivated business people who may have become disillusioned in the careers they chose and are looking to make a change. We've been able to put these people on a fast track program to mid/upper management positions on property. One of the biggest issues in finding the right talent today is the pay scale.

For entry-level managerial positions in hospitality, starting wages are far less appealing than other industries. That's why we look outside the box at Dream Hotel Group. We've found that by offering a “fast track” to accelerate career growth, we're more likely to attract the right type of candidates, someone who wants to work hard and grow internally at Dream. We're always looking for people who want to join at the high-level manager level and commit themselves to grow into a General Manager or executive position at Dream Hotel Group in just two to five years. It takes the right kind of person to want to take this path with us, but we've seen a lot of success with this option and will continue to offer it for the right candidates.

Thomas Willms
Ex Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deutsche Hospitality

Our Hospitality industry is positively special, a “people business” like we say and full of exciting opportunities for graduates from top hotel schools who come with the right mindset. In view of the tense situation on the job market, we are looking for graduates, regardless of which technical college they attend. A challenge that the hospitality industry and educational institutions share is the need for continuous change. Service to the guest means that we meet the changing expectations of our guests. Hotel schools need to develop and adapt their offer to changing hotel processes. see more

In the course of digital transformation, we increasingly need professional know-how in addition to classic requirements in hotels, which we do not always find sufficiently in hotel schools. In this respect, we are happy to also look to schools that produce such expertise. In our opinion, this will increase in the coming years. BA courses and distance learning courses which can be well linked to hospitality jobs are becoming more and more relevant. This is where many good approaches are emerging to generate the next generation of hotel management trainees.

Irrespective of the form of the university, we see the rapid assumption of responsibility, including management responsibility, as a challenge for graduates. In this industry you have to be passionate to be or to become a true hotelier. When graduates have not been sufficiently prepared for this in step with actual practice at hotel schools, they sometimes come out with a degree and a good self-confidence but fail to meet the first major challenges in their jobs. Preparing graduates for these challenges is extremely important. In our opinion, the demand for individual internal trainee programmes will increase. We can also envisage initiatives that complement the training programs in schools and thus add value in terms of the skills we will need in the future.


David Etmenan
Chief Executive Officer & Owner at NOVUM Hospitality

Just like any other field of expertise driven by digital advancement and altering customer demands, the contemporary hospitality sector finds itself in constant transition. In the past years, several parties – from industry experts to hospitality conglomerates - voiced their concerns about skills shortage and the alleged decreasing interest in hotel-related careers. Simultaneously, also expectations towards future employees and desired training patterns as well as skillsets have shifted. At NOVUM Hospitality, both hospitality school graduates and lateral entrants are welcome to pursue their careers, as it is our strong belief that every individual holds unique talents that await discovery and further development. If you take pleasure in what you do, the suggested concept of service embracement follows and evolves naturally. Generally speaking, one definitely cannot say that hospitality schools have ceased to deliver the talent we are looking for today. Well-trained specialists continue to form the basis of our industry. see more


Commitment towards lifelong learning is key


We have recognized that in order to keep pace with technological advancement and best practices, however, the commitment towards lifelong learning and perpetual staff training has become a prerequisite within our industry. Hence, the challenge does not lie within the purported lack of talent hospitality schools are delivering; it rather lies within the changing nature of our industry itself. As an expeditiously growing, family-driven organization, it is our heartfelt desire to support our employees in this process and to continuously develop and challenge specialists across departments, regardless of their professional background. That is why we have recently established our NOVUM Hospitality School – an educational initiative enabling us to train and develop our employees in ways that are not only specific to our company, but that are also tailored to the individual needs of our teams. The educational offer comprises, inter alia, webinars, seminars, workshops and (web-based)trainings. Since it is our designated aim to fill management vacancies from within, the offering addresses both, management as well as operational and service departments.


We have thus far performed our part in this reciprocal programme and trust that in the whole, expertise in hospitality is no longer solely a question of whether a (potential) employee has been profoundly trained in first instance, but whether or not (hotel) companies succeed in adopting approaches to educating staff members in sustained and continuous ways. 

Ramón Aragonés
Chief Executive Officer at NH Hotel Group

We are always open to and excited about having students that come from hospitality or business schools join our company. The hotel industry has changed much during the last few years and the scope of skills of its employees has widened considerably. Nowadays, a hotel General Manager is prepared to lead, for example, a retail business for any well-known brand and the other way round too, a Manager of retail business could have an excellent fit in a managing role within the hotel industry. see more


Students coming from either of these two branches of studies, usually end their education well-rounded in many important business aspects. The knowledge and skills acquired through their studies stage are essential and useful for a variety of different professional careers. 


So when hiring, especially when valuating very young talent, a key factor for us in a successful application is finding an outgoing, enthusiastic and good thinker who also has the ability to work with teams and is passionate for people and service. And this is many times beyond classrooms.

Sem Schuurkes
Founder and Partner of CityHub

CityHub originated out of a fresh and uninhibited view on hospitality and hotel business. Having an education in Business management and not specifically in the hospitality industry, allowed us to think out-of-the-box, not bound by traditional patterns and thinking frameworks. We believe that such a mindset was part of the strength of our concept from its beginning and we therefore know to appreciate the perks of a lack of hospitality education and experience when hiring new team members. see more

In the search for talent to support the operations and growth of our company, hospitality education is generally not an important requirement. Personality, working experience and accomplishments provide a much better measure of a person's capacity.

At the same time, hospitality education does not put a candidate in discredit either. For me, the strength of hospitality-focused education is the practical edge it usually has. Learning on the job provides the students with fast thinking skills and a hands-on mentality. Hospitality students also acquire management skills at an early age, which often gives them a head start compared to other university degrees. Lastly and maybe most importantly, having a degree from a hospitality school shows a passion for the job and the fields. It's the best thing to work with people that are passionate about what they do.

Therefore, other university degrees can definitely stand an equal chance during the hiring process, but the specific and especially practical skills of hospitality graduates are still highly appreciated. In our team, we try to create a balance not only among different expertise and experience but also mentalities and thinking frameworks, for this reason, we appreciate diversity in education as well as working backgrounds. 

David Sherwyn
Professor of Law at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration

 As Hotel Schools evolve and the industry progresses, the question is whether hospitality employers should look to Hotel Schools, business schools or liberal arts programs for new hires. I contend, that Hotel Schools are the place for all employers to look to hire new graduates. Here is why: see more

I.  Hotel Schools have evolved: Today the curriculum of most hotel schools mirror that of top business schools. Like business schools, we teach accounting, finance, statistics, marketing, and operations. Unlike, business schools, however, we emphasize business school courses that have been marginalized in general programs like Human Resource Management and our law course focuses on employment law, labor law, and premises liability… topics that are vital to the industry, but not to all businesses and therefore are barely covered in traditional business programs. In addition, we offer specific courses so that students get to e know the industry – real estate, hotel operations, food operations, and facilities management are just a few of such courses. Finally, hospitality is a theme found in all our courses – thus, are marketers only teach services, our operations management faculty look at supply chain of hotel goods, our real estate faculty teach hotels – not industrial.… 

II.  We teach a service culture. Hotel School students are taught from day one that their career will be to serve their guests, their employees, their employers, and their other stakeholders. In fact, most business school graduates go into services – e.g. banking, accounting, sales, marketing, law, but they are often not even aware that serving others is what their jobs are all about. We have experienced business school students actively reject the contention that their careers are service driven. Hotel School students get it! They do not reject service – they embrace it!

III.  Content and context matter. The world has changed! The theory of college used to be that we would teach critical thinking and communication through basic academic disciplines and our students would then use those skills to learn a business and to perform in their careers. The business world moves too fast for long training of people who have no idea of how business works. New graduates will be expected to apply technology and data to make decisions – firms look for new ideas from these graduates who must understand the content and context. Hotel School students are taught critical thinking by examining issues that affect our industry. They have developed the technological and data analysis skills necessary to add to the company day one and to continue to grow into their careers.

IV.   Hotel School graduates have transferable skills: Every industry has its own language and own set of issues and concerns. Hotel School students understand the industry. They are comfortable with franchising v management contracts v licensing agreements. Rev par rolls of their tongues and they know that ADR is average daily rate and alternative dispute resolution. They understand real estate and finance. They also know how many rooms a room attendant can clean in shift and why a union contract affects that. Hotel School students who enter the hotel business are ready to go their first day. Hotel School students who do enter other industries understand that there are a number of idiosyncratic aspects of the field that they have entered and are prepared to learn their new business like they learned hospitality.

V.  Our students are bright, driven, have a service culture, have high EQ's and, we believe are really well educated.   

Co-Created ViewpointIDeaS - A SAS Company More from IDeaS, Inc.