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In pursuit of a good hotel manager

23 July 2014 06:23 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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ecently someone contacted me to find out if I knew of anyone who could be recommended to    manage their hotel.

Apparently, the owners had looked at several candidates and found none to be a suitable fit. This doesn’t surprise me: finding tomorrow’s managers and leaders is only just one of a ‘multi-dimensional’ challenge Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry currently faces and I predict it to get worse in the not so distant future.                                                                                                                

‘You are the answer…but are you equipped?’ was the headline of a full page newspaper advertisement by a Sri Lankan institute that offers an American hospitality management degree. Providing an industry overview, it said, and I quote, ‘Sri Lanka’s tourism industry looks ahead as it prepares to host 2.5 million visitors whilst expecting to experience annual growth of over 25 percent in tourist arrivals through 2013 – 2016 and the availability of hotel rooms is set to undergo a major revamp to accommodate the influx of foreign nationals.

Sri Lanka’s tourism and hospitality industry faces major challenges in the next few years, largely related to the pace of change and the expansion within the Asian realm, and the availability of skilled labour. This aspect of labour is the one which Sri Lanka needs to resolve fast, if its long term tourism aspirations are to be met.’ It then goes on to add, ‘Finding Managers to Drive success: the serious challenge is to find enough managers, especially those at a senior level to drive a business forward. Managers posses’ skill sets that typically require years of formal education and experience to acquire. However, generic management skills may have limited use for the hospitality sector with its intense focus on service, thus management development has to be hospitality specific.’ unquote.



Hotel managers are the driving force behind a hotel business. Early in their careers they focus on achieving operational excellence – making sure that the particular area of the hotel under their responsibility operates smoothly and effectively





Demand to increase
There can be no doubt that the hospitality and tourism industry in Sri Lanka will continue to grow. At what annual pace of growth it would do is entirely another story. Nevertheless, demand for managers and senior staff is set to increase. Of these, the vast majority - will be due to replacement demand from people seeking jobs abroad, staff getting ‘lured’ by lucrative offers from new competitors, employees moving into new roles and others leaving the industry. Having said this, it is encouraging to note that some effort – albeit too little, is been initiated to address these skills gaps, especially with the development of certain training programmes aimed specifically at helping people advance their career.

However, if one is to believe that management and leadership skills will continue to grow in importance in the next two to three years, the sector will face significantly enormous pressure in the future. On one hand, Generic training programmes, when properly and professionally executed can teach skills associated with entry and early-career levels to provide an excellent basis from which to develop. On the other hand, industry’s managers and leaders of tomorrow require far more tailored and personalised training if they are to continue to develop.

On both counts, the outlook for the industry appears gloomy with very little done to address these gaps. Research carried out a couple of years ago revealed that only 41 per cent of businesses in the UK hotel industry offered training in the past 12 months and that most of it was generic. Of those who offered training, a mere 36 per cent provided training directed at addressing individual needs. Essentially, only 15% focused on assisting individuals with the specific professional development opportunities they required. If that then is the situation in the UK…can it be any better in Sri Lanka?

J. Willard Marriott once said: ‘We have realized for a long time that you can’t have a service business with a lot of employees without having people who know how to manage. So we have been teaching our management how to manage, as well as our employees how to take care of their jobs. Good management and trained personnel are the most important factors in our business.

When we had six or seven hot shoppers, I’d drive to every one of them every day, sometimes twice a day. Every time I visited, I’d find something was wrong: the beer was flat or wasn’t cold; the lights hadn’t been turned on at night; or the barbeque machine wasn’t clean. There were just a lot of things our management didn’t do or didn’t see. So I then decided, that, if we were going to open a lot of places, we had to hire competent people to do what I was doing - going from one outlet to the next, training managers.’ The words uttered by J. Willard Marriott were of his observations on what occurred in 1964. Relevant then and relevant now, although it hasn’t changed for better, especially in Sri Lanka’s hotelscape!

Let’s face it, hotel managers have to be better prepared today. There’s so much competition that you have got to know your business and what you’re doing. Experience will tell that success is never final, but the decisions we make along the way determine the end and final outcome.

Are we exceeding guest expectations, do our associates have all the tools necessary to do their roles and are empowered, who are the rising stars that are our next generation of leaders, what can we do more of, besides gaining feedback and asking these questions? It also comes down to simply being present within the operation, not managing from your office. The close attention to the fine details of any operation – be it a hotel, restaurant or whatever, makes that operation better than the rest or be the best-in-class.




However, if one is to believe that management and leadership skills will continue to grow in importance in the next two to three years, the sector will face significantly enormous pressure in the future




Prospecting for the good manager
Today’s modern ships are such that if the Captain gets the systems right and the right people, the ship will run itself. This is why in the Navy, if the ship runs aground, the captain is the one who get’s court-martialled - even if he was not at the helm, even if he was asleep or even if he was ill! The point is that the Captain should have trained his crew and set up a system that works anytime, all the time and everytime. So once the Captain has set up systems that work properly and has his people performing, do we need him anymore? Ofcourse the Captain is needed, because the tasks keep changing all the while. The ship is constantly being given new directions as it sets course to navigate another journey. The cargo it carries can change in size, shape and weight whilst new challenges and problems can emerge.

The systems have to be adapted all the time, and the people need to be learning new skills and changing their roles constantly. Even if the tasks don’t change – the people would. Some would be leaving, new ones arriving and the existing ones may get bored and need to be motivated. The Captain has to organise this, or organise the Organising. This is what management is, as, aptly summed up by a Captain who said “I’m not in charge of the ship; I am in charge of the people who run the ship”.
Managing a hotel is no different. As a hotel manager, you’re on top of all ongoing activities, so your workplace is everywhere in the hotel. You might start in the morning at your desk, checking enquiries or reading notes from staff members about any incidents that happened since the previous day, you’ll then do a walk around the different departments to catch up with staff on any issues. You might head a team meeting to run through the day’s schedule and highlight any VIPs or groups arriving. Later in the day you will have to spend a period of time at your desk doing things like looking after paperwork, dealing with key clients, analysing activity and setting out strategies to improve different areas. In the afternoon or early evening, you’ll get out onto the floor of the hotel and make sure all is running smoothly – guests like to see the general manager out taking a hands-on approach.

Hotel managers are the driving force behind a hotel business. Early in their careers they focus on achieving operational excellence – making sure that the particular area of the hotel under their responsibility operates smoothly and effectively. As they become well experienced in operational matters, they take on the additional responsibility of implementing strategies that create a competitive edge for the establishment, setting goals and standards and overseeing staff performance to achieve these strategies. A good manager needs to think rationally, analyze variables effectively, strategize with skill and continually invest in his/her self-growth whilst been focused all the time. As Neil Salerno claims, ‘one of the key traits a good manager must have is to be focused on success. This trait may sound quite basic to many of us, but focus can be elusive. Focus is what directs a manager towards those activities which matter most. The best general manager realizes that just being busy is not as important as being busy doing the right things.

The 80/20 rule is amazing in its myriad of applications; 20 percent of everything you do will result in 80 percent of your successes. Finding the right 20 percent takes focus’. Make no mistake about it: effective management is a challenge. There are many managers, but there are very few good managers and discovering those good managers is increasingly tougher than looking for the proverbial ‘needle’ in the haystack.

(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz. Website: www.in2ition.biz)
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