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What is the importance of soft skills in hospitality? Critical!

The importance of soft skills in hospitality and tourism is becoming critical. Our hospitality experts give you the reasons why.

What are ‘soft skills’ and why are they so important for the tourism and hospitality sector? Soft skills include the ability to motivate a team, to network and to manage client relationships. They are crucial to tourism and hospitality because it is a labor intensive industry that involves a high degree of customer contact.

Soft skills can be viewed as character traits or interpersonal aptitudes that affect one’s ability to work and interact with others. They are capabilities that are difficult to train in a formal academic setting. They also usually don’t appear as a standard feature on curriculum vitae, but they can be highlighted in a section devoted to ‘professional experience’.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Most academic training is focused on hard skills, i.e. mastering specific techniques and developing analytical approaches to problem-solving. Meanwhile, soft skills relate more to emotional intelligence and are abilities that help to facilitate personal interaction – either with colleagues or clients. Furthermore, they are useful across all industries and job types. Hard skills, on the other hand, are most often job-specific and are learned through formal education or training. IT or accounting capabilities represent classic cases of ‘hard skills’.

 

Soft skills

Hard skills

Useful in all sectors

Industry specific

Natural abilities

Learned through education & training

Related to emotional intelligence

Based on technical knowledge

 Figure: Hard skills compared to soft skills

 

In today’s job market, the deciding factor for employers often comes down to a contest between the hard vs. soft skills of different candidates. A survey presented by SMB World in 2016 found that nearly 72% of CEOs believe that soft skills are more important to the success of their business than hard skills.

Emotional intelligence is the key factor

A key gauge of soft skills is emotional intelligence (EI), which relates to recognising and managing one’s emotions and those of others. EI can be broken down into four components, as follows:  

  • Self-awareness: how accurately can one assess one’s own emotions? It stands to reason that those who seek out negative feedback are bound to be more self-aware than those who rely only on positive feedback.
  • Self-management: the ability to control one’s emotions, as demonstrated by one’s transparency, adaptability, achievement, and optimism. 
  • Social awareness: one’s organizational awareness, focus on service, and level of empathy are key aspects of social awareness.
  • Managing relationships: mentoring, serving as an inspirational leader and catalyst for change, leading successful teams, and managing conflict are all part of managing relationships. 

So how does all this relate to tourism and hospitality?

Tourism and hospitality are first and foremost a ‘people’ business, both from the internal business point of view and from the external customer perspective. To be successful in the field it is essential to be able to function as the member of a team – either as a leader or as a participant. Every team member has a contribution to make and each individual’s role is critical to the ability of a team to achieve its objectives. Many jobs in the sector involve direct customer contact, such as waiting on tables, working at reception or managing an in-house spa. So here again, personal interaction skills are essential to the success of the business.

Take a look at our example of service recovery

A good example of solidifying customer loyalty through appropriate behavior is ‘service recovery’, which refers to a company's resolution of a problem from a dissatisfied customer, when things go wrong.

Service recovery is a thought-out, planned, process of transforming aggrieved/dissatisfied customers into loyal clients. Here again, emotional intelligence comes into play. Since most dissatisfied customers are reluctant to complain, it is incumbent on employees to recognize when service recovery should be applied, so as to solve problems at the front desk before customers complain or go away angry and frustrated.

Can hotel management schools ‘teach’ soft skills?

As suggested above, soft skills are not typically acquired in the classroom. However, the overall training and education process in the best hotel management schools puts a lot of emphasis on group work and internships, as well as working in on-campus hospitality outlets, all of which afford ample opportunity for students to sharpen their interpersonal skills.

EHL Swiss School of Hospitality & Tourism, with its vision of a new affective hospitality goes one step further than traditional hotel management schools. In contrast to other hotel management schools, we do not only teach social skills, but also strengthens self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social awareness. The students are trained to be enthusiastic hosts with a good feeling about themselves and their counterparts. Only hotel managers who can create emotions and truly unique experiences will be able to succeed. Therefore, we aim at equiping our students with the right tools and emotional abilities to be agile stage-directors in the world of affective hospitality.