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The hospitality world is changing rapidly

The pace of change is accelerating rapidly. This essay looks at the last 30 years . . .

One of the really interesting aspects of my job is the perspective I gain from working with many different people in a broad range of hospitality businesses. It’s a lot easier to grasp the big picture while you are moving around constantly than it is when you are largely preoccupied with local issues, as a lot of our clients seem to be.

One of the issues that has become highlighted for me at the moment is the current rate of change that is occurring both in our society and in our industry. I was prompted to think about this recently when my father, who was in this 80s at the time, commented: ‘It’s amazing, in my lifetime we’ve gone from horses to astronauts.’ That caused me to reflect on my own experiences.

Technology development is pushing us ahead

Computer technology has created a rapid advance in our abilities.

Consider the changes that technology has brought to the hospitality industry in the last 20 years —  computers, mobile phones and tablets, point-of-sale systems, the Internet and email, social media, to mention a few. Look at the way hospitality businesses have changed as our economy rapidly becomes absorbed into a global trading village. Fifteen years ago you could have opened a 45 seat restaurant and made a good living, now you will scrape out an existence that is not much better than wages. The small hospitality business is fast going the way of the corner milk bar and the local butcher.

The old blood house pub is almost a thing of the past in our big cities, having been driven out of existence by zealously enforced drink driving laws and changing social attitudes. Many have just quietly closed while others have been replaced by modern food and entertainment oriented businesses. At the other end of the scale the old fine dining restaurant with dark wood paneling, stiff formality, gueridon trolleys and silver service has become a victim of economic forces and has made way for more casual, less complicated service systems in brighter, less imposing surroundings.

New business models

Local catering companies have either grown or been swallowed-up and the market is now dominated by multi-national corporations, and the same has happened with the hotel and tourism sector. I well remember the days in the mid 60’s when the Southern Cross Hotel was the only ‘international’ hotel in my home town of Melbourne. Now there are 75 hotels offering 15,000 rooms, with many more on the drawing board.

Look at the rise of new industry segments if you want another example of how quickly things change. The emergence of serviced apartments and bed and 

The serviced apartment is an example of the recent development of new business models.

breakfast accommodation are good examples — they are hammering the top end of the hotel market and the regional motel markets respectively, and will inevitably be the catalyst for a further evolution in the way those older market segments do things.

Traditional job roles are evolving very quickly

Aside from the uncertainty that businesses face in an accelerating economy, this fast paced development has a human toll that we’re seeing more and more of. Industry job roles that have been stable for centuries are suddenly forced (well, relatively suddenly — perhaps over fifteen or twenty years, or so) to change. Take the role of a restaurant manager as a clear example. In times gone by all you needed to run a restaurant front of house was good waiting and reasonable supervisory skills. Technology has changed all that.

Now a restaurant manager has to be able to use and deal with all the problems arising from a computerised point-of-sale system, and also cope with all the pressures created by the information that system provides. Restaurants used to be a lot more profitable — twenty years ago not many restaurant managers were overly concerned about wage cost, customer averages, suggestive selling, precise rostering, complex wine lists, etc — now they have to be mathematicians, statisticians, computer operators, industrial relations experts, marketing gurus and spin doctors.

The role of the Chef has also taken quite a turn. For centuries a chef was a kind of kitchen foreman who was primarily concerned with culinary skills. We are now demanding that they be artist, manager, technician and public relations expert. There are a whole bunch of them out there going from job to job wondering why they can’t quite cope. I’m not surprised.

Marketing has changed immensely -
from newspaper and magazine to social media

The internet has revolutionised marketing

On a divergent note, think about marketing for a moment. Like most people you’re probably quite comfortable that you understand what the term means and happy to accept that marketing is an important aspect of modern business and a responsibility inherent in most key jobs. So what? Well, marketing has only achieved normal status as a business skill in the last thirty years. When I was a kid no one had heard of it.  

What will the future bring? I don’t know, but I do know things are evolving a

at a cracking pace and that our industry is in for some profound changes.  I was watching TV recently and a scientist made the claim that the sum total of human knowledge is doubling every two years. How anybody would establish that is beyond me but the assertion seems reasonable. I’m trying to get the dust off my crystal ball and some polish on the old Ouija board so I can work out what we should be teaching people over the next few years.

This presents an interesting challenge for business owners. Your business has to evolve at the same pace as our society, otherwise it will fall behind — and you have to do this during the time of the most rapid change in the whole of human history. Who was it who said: ‘act locally, think globally’? Maybe they had a good point?

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