Infrastructure First: Learning to Care for it! Nurturing Talent and Craving for Hospitality as Profession!

The author is an Oberoi Alumni, retired as President of Oberoi Hotels, later joined Lemon Tree Hotels as MD of Carnation Hotels. Presently, he consults on projects and lectures at various fora.

The hospitality industry has faced many difficult cross roads during the last few decades. From prohibitive costs of creating infrastructure, bureaucratic delays, need for submitting and clearing seventy plus licences, lack of public infrastructure, refusal of successive governments to grant “Industry Status”, the existence of parallel money flows, the challenges seemed unsurmountable. But the industry survived, revived and thrived in cycles.

On one hand rates were deemed “expensive” and hotels as “elitist”; on another – the clamour was for more supply of rooms in various segments. With over 160,000 branded rooms in operation, and probably twice as many unbranded – growing at about 6%-7%, the jury is still out on whether we have enough or too little. Thankfully, demand seems to continue to grow by 10-12% YOY. Therefore, the coming decade seems to be the golden period for revenues and profits. Or, so the analysts opine.

Infrastructure has scaled up – new roads, airports, trains, large investment in pilgrimage locations and further improvements on the anvil. So, all should be well, or is it.

Which brings me to two concerns:

Do we deserve the growth and higher quality of infrastructure?

As citizens with “purported” high standards of social and philosophical uprightness, why are we so “uncaring” and prone to “loutish” behaviour? Look at the state of the Vande Bharat trains, marked with red pan spit stains, broken windows (due to unrestrained stoning driven by political malfeasance), penchant to travel unreserved in the higher category of compartments. As better and higher quality facilities get created, we seem to revel in destruction and equally, lack of hygiene. Is policing even possible given the large number of travellers? I saw photographs of the filth and stains, along with broken chairs at the new Ayodhya airport and station recently. Experience the fabulous Metro stations and trains in DEL/NCR/Mumbai and Bangalore! But what strikes you most is the total lack of responsible behaviour of the traveller. Is it a lack of education or the total lack of oversight by the elders in not bringing up a generation?

Our sense of entitlement perpetuates boorish behaviour and less said the better about awareness of diversity, the needs of the differently abled and not to forget our age-old lament – safety of the lady traveller. A simple fact is that when we get good dustbins, we enjoy littering next to them and worse still, damage or steal them. Till we change, we will remain in the same state. Safety and Hygiene is a paramount need of the new domestic and the long-haul international traveller. They will go somewhere else, where better conditions prevail, the loss will continue to be ours. Or, are we therefore doomed to face lower cycles till we become “responsible”? And, will we ever change? There are people who believe change is coming but slowly.

Do we have enough manpower to support this growth?

The simple answer is No. Do the millennials and Zoomers see hospitality as a desirable industry to join? Regrettably no. Is this an Indian phenomenon? Now, No!

Prior to Covid-it was the second or third best option for those who couldn’t afford higher education in the developed countries. In addition, working in hospitality was an “encouraged” option even as a second job, apprenticeships were the norm. Unfortunately, the trend of lower wages and longer working hours went unchecked. During Covid and after, the lack of manpower in hospitality – hotels, restaurants, travel companies, and support services has become endemic. No one wishes to work for less. So higher revenues have led to a drop in service standards due to the lack of adequate, well-trained manpower. This needs to be addressed on a war footing. Surprising, that in a country with a population of 1.4 billion people, reasonably high poverty levels, there are, and will be, thousands of jobs available, direct and indirect, and no one willing to take them.

Many hospitality schools have been set up in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, with Government support or private investment, but where are the trainers with contemporary knowledge and/or experience? The training modules are from the seventies or eighties at best. The world is galloping and changing, with regards to expectations, experiences, exposure. Yet, we are teaching archaic modules. The IT systems and processes, now moving towards machine learning and AI, etc are challenging enough, but to get to them, the modules still have to be at least from the present. Large brands must adopt clusters of such institutions and bring them up to speed. The teachers have to either come from the industry at present and the older ones must get re-inducted. They must be compensated well. This will encourage others to seek the “joy of educating young talent” for our wonderful world.

Lastly, we don’t seem to wish to market the industry and its potential for exposure and growth, in the smaller cities and hinterland areas, in the local vernacular. Socially in many cities, hotel employment as an alternative is frowned upon and considered unsafe for the ladies. There is little or no awareness that the concerns of yore are no longer relevant. When the youth from the smaller cities sought jobs in the metros, they did it safe in the knowledge that their community didn’t know the roles they were performing. The north eastern states have done a stellar job by getting their young ones “industry ready”. Why not the others?

Earlier hotels came up only in the metro cities and there was traction locally or from the nearby geographies for hotel roles. Some lasted, some grew with awareness and excitement with multi-skilling. A lot grew in personality which enabled them to get roles in the other service industries. Today, the maximum supply of hotels is in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, with smaller inventories or in the midscale, budget and economy segments. The city boys and girls don’t wish to work in the smaller cities, so where are the employees going to come from? Train them, excite them, show them growth, satisfy their hunger for knowledge and their need to feel safe in the environment. The new generation, regardless of the limitations of education, have aspirations to improve their status. Social media has made them aware, they need the access and thoughtful development. Needless to say, “pay them well” with lesser hours as possible.

The Skill development councils have put in a lot of laudable efforts as have organisations like People Plus (just one that comes to my mind and I believe there are many such). Let us not create newer bodies, committees, low quality/ profit driven institutions any more. Let it be a PPP coordinated and led by the industry (all senior hospitality and restaurant brands) with clear measurable goals of placement, non-competitively. It is not just the national need but an industry imperative. Our survival depends upon it. There is Emergency in this Ward!

(Views in this article are personal and based on learnings and observations during and after Covid)


An Oberoi Alumni, Rattan Keswani was President – Trident Hotels, before joining Lemon Tree Hotels, where he was both Deputy MD, Lemon Tree Hotels, and Director/Co Promoter, Carnation Hotels.



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