Network with the right kind of people because trust me, it’s networking with your peers and your seniors that gets you the new job opportunities, says Dr. Sarah Hussain, Head of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Jamia Millia Islamia, in an interview with Education Post’s Prabhav Anand. This quote encapsulates our dialogue, where Dr. Hussain unveils indispensable advice for aspiring professionals in this career field. From dismantling toxic work cultures to fostering a global outlook, her insights serve as a compass in the ever-evolving landscape of travel and hospitality.
Please share some insights from your extensive experience as you were also the Head of the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Jamia Millia Islamia. How has the field evolved over the years?
Tourism and hospitality management in our country are relatively new. Most universities lacked individuals from a tourism background in their departments until recently. Over time, people have begun completing their PhDs, joining these departments, and propelling education in this field forward. Unlike other countries, this is still a relatively new domain in India. Hospitality education, until a few years ago, operated outside the traditional higher education and university system, functioning more like institutes. However, universities have now started incorporating hospitality and tourism into their curricula, recognizing the importance of these fields for the future.
The inevitability of travel ensures a continuous demand for accommodation, be it in luxury hotels, smaller homestays, or guesthouses. People will always seek places to eat, whether it’s home-cooked food or dining in restaurants. The field is ever-evolving, and significant changes have already occurred. The universities have also recognized the job opportunities this area offers, providing instant careers for graduates in tourism and hospitality. The programs are entirely job-oriented, with students readily absorbed into the industry post-graduation.
The youth is increasingly drawn to these departments due to the immediate employment prospects. Notably, the trend has shifted towards home stays, with individuals renting out properties in locations like Himachal for remote work or leisure stays. This evolution has given rise to a booming business in homestays across India. People now seek quieter, warmer, and more sustainable destinations, moving away from conventional tourist hotspots. The shift in preference indicates a significant transformation in the tourism landscape, with a growing interest in serene and eco-friendly locations.
What are some of the key challenges you’ve encountered while managing a department focused on tourism and hospitality education?
See, one challenge we face is that prospective students often hold preconceived notions about the department’s requirements. There’s a misconception that only exceptionally smart and articulate individuals with excellent communication skills should pursue this field. This belief deters many potential students who assume it’s not a fit for them. It’s essential to clarify that our department welcomes individuals of all types – introverts, extroverts, those comfortable with communication, and those who prefer otherwise. Employment opportunities are diverse and cater to everyone’s strengths. A lack of awareness about the inclusivity of our field poses a significant challenge.
Once enrolled, students undergo a transformation during industrial training, becoming more street-smart and independent thinkers. While this is advantageous, it also presents a challenge as they can be resistant to conventional teaching methods. Their exposure to the industrial side makes them adept at reading body language and questioning instructions. This dual-edged nature of quick adaptability can be both a boon and a bane.
Another challenge lies in the insufficient emphasis on research within our field. Tourism and hospitality, still emerging in India, grapple with a dearth of substantial research papers compared to other disciplines. It’s crucial for individuals to recognize the importance of rigorous research in establishing the credibility of our field. Encouraging serious research work is pivotal to addressing this challenge.
Furthermore, managing a department that incorporates both hospitality and tourism adds an extra layer of complexity. Hospitality programs demand substantial investments in equipment for kitchens, bakeries, and housekeeping. The heavy financial commitment required often raises skepticism among universities contemplating such investments. While I’ve successfully navigated this challenge, it remains an overarching concern within our field – the misconception that establishing a hospitality department is straightforward without recognizing the need for extensive infrastructure.
In essence, our challenges encompass dispelling misconceptions about entry requirements, navigating the duality of student adaptability, fostering research culture, and addressing the substantial investments required for hospitality programs.
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In recent years, the travel and hospitality industry has undergone significant changes due to technology and changing consumer preferences. How should educational institutions adapt their curricula to prepare students for these shifts?
In recent years, the travel and hospitality industry has undergone significant changes due to technology and changing consumer preferences. Educational institutions must adapt their curricula to prepare students for these shifts. Digital literacy is crucial, and not everyone can upgrade themselves extensively. Faculty members can only upgrade up to a certain level without the necessary infrastructure for digitalization in the industry. The top-tier hotel and travel associations have integrated technology extensively, surpassing what educational institutions can match.
During COVID-19, digitalization witnessed substantial development, enabling students to learn extensively. The marketing landscape has transformed, with AI and virtual reality offering virtual visits to various places. This shift allows individuals to explore destinations like Scandinavia and inspect rooms virtually, offering a new dimension to the industry. While robots have replaced human roles globally, India’s abundance of manpower prevents widespread adoption due to cost considerations.
Teaching technology becomes crucial. Both faculty and industry players need to invest in upgrading themselves to meet global standards. The integration of technology, such as facial recognition, is rapidly advancing. Airports, like Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport, now utilize facial recognition for processes like boarding passes, moving towards a passport-free future. China has already embraced facial recognition in hotels, simplifying check-in processes, a trend not as prevalent in India. The global industry is evolving, and India must catch up by investing in technology and education to stay competitive.
Could you share your thoughts on the concept of a “Professor of Practice” in the context of hospitality education? What benefits does it bring to students?
The concept of a “Professor of Practice” in the context of hospitality education is a commendable thought. It hasn’t been implemented everywhere, but I hope it becomes a practical reality. The limitation of only 10 percent poses a challenge. For instance, if a department has six permanent lecture hours, having a professor of practice is not feasible unless there are at least 10 such hours. While this practicality hasn’t materialized, I’d like to share my own experience. With 25 years of overall experience, including a decade in the industry and teaching since 2008, I can confidently say I’ve had the best of both worlds. However, not everyone has had a similar trajectory.
If the hiring of a professor of practice is currently constrained by the 10 percent limit, alternative measures can be taken. Hiring visiting and guest faculty, organizing industrial visits, and inviting professionals from the industry for guest lectures can help bridge the gap. Seeking faculty members with relevant industry experience is also crucial. A professor of practice is undoubtedly valuable. For instance, teaching the operations of a hotel cannot be effectively done solely through books. To impart this knowledge, one must have practical experience in a hotel. Similarly, understanding the workings of a travel agency or tour operator, including the process of booking tickets and observing passenger behavior, requires first-hand experience. Integrating individuals with industry exposure into the teaching faculty is essential to bringing real-world scenarios into the classroom. Without this, it’s challenging to convey the intricacies of the field accurately.
As the concept of “workcations” gains traction, how should hospitality management education evolve to prepare professionals for this hybrid work-leisure environment?
Hospitality management education must adapt to the evolving hybrid work-leisure environment. Good hotels in India, especially branded ones, prioritize fostering excellent work cultures. These establishments enforce a maximum 9-hour workday, even during training, distinguishing them as better places to work. Toxic work cultures are diminishing, and globally, there’s a shift towards recognizing the importance of reasonable working hours.
The perception that Indians working abroad experience a better work culture highlights the need for a systemic change in India. It’s crucial to extend ethical work practices beyond top-tier companies. The prevailing 6-day work week in some Indian companies contradicts the improved work culture experienced abroad. Driven by legislation, there’s a call for broader adoption of ethical practices to ensure a balanced and productive workforce in the hospitality industry. Fatigue negatively impacts performance, emphasizing the importance of conducive work conditions for overall well-being and sustained success in the industry.
What’s your organization’s approach towards inspiring students to start their own startups, considering the new wave of startups in the field?
Our university, with its distinctive focus on fostering entrepreneurship, has established the Entrepreneurship Cell to support students in pursuing startup initiatives. This cell operates independently within the university and offers certification and diploma programs, providing students access to funding opportunities. In our department, we actively encourage students to engage with the university’s Entrepreneurship Cell, and within our curriculum, we emphasize cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset.
We believe in equipping students not only to seek employment but also to become employers themselves. This philosophy is embedded in our curriculum, where we impart coaching and guidance to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit. In 2022, amidst the lingering impact of COVID-19, we organized a successful international conference on entrepreneurship and tourism. This platform facilitated meaningful discussions involving government representatives, scholars, students, and entrepreneurs. It emphasized the importance of individuals becoming job providers rather than solely job seekers.
Our educational approach extends to practical aspects, educating students on preparing proposals for funding from various investors and navigating the regulatory landscape for startups. Additionally, we encourage faculty members to participate in relevant programs, fostering a culture of entrepreneurial education within our academic community. This multifaceted approach aims to empower students to think innovatively, venture into entrepreneurship, and contribute to the job market as creators of employment opportunities.
The National Education Policy 2020 is a comprehensive policy that covers many aspects of education. I’m curious to know your perspective on this policy. What do you think are the strengths of the policy? Additionally, is there anything that you think can be improved upon? If so, what changes would you suggest to make the policy better?
The National Education Policy 2020 marks a significant transformation in our educational landscape, and we are actively engaged in implementing its principles. Our prepared syllabus is poised for launch, bridging the academic transition between two years. The forthcoming academic year anticipates the introduction of the new education policy into our curriculum.
Your inquiry revolves around the potential impact of this policy. Notably, it introduces flexibility for students to pursue diverse interests. A student in hospitality might concurrently explore tourism or delve into artificial intelligence (AI), earning credits from relevant departments. This freedom is facilitated through a structure encompassing discipline-specific major courses, discipline-specific minors, and multidisciplinary courses. Additionally, ability enhancement courses, covering foreign languages or AI, and skill enhancement courses, such as food engineering for culinary programs, contribute to a comprehensive learning experience. Value-added courses and experiential learning further enrich the curriculum.
The policy sets percentage benchmarks for each category, emphasizing a balance of discipline-specific content while encouraging exposure to diverse fields. Specifically, 40% for discipline-specific courses, 20% for discipline-specific minors, 5.5% for multidisciplinary courses, 5% for ability enhancement, and 6% for skill enhancement. This strategic integration aims to provide a well-rounded and credit-driven education, aligning with the vision outlined in the National Education Policy 2020.
What advice do you have for students aspiring to excel in the travel and hospitality industry in India, especially in a post-pandemic world?
For students aspiring to excel in the travel and hospitality industry in India, especially in a post-pandemic world, my advice is crucial. In my department, we focus on cultivating a worldly-wise perspective, refining communication skills, and fostering personality development. This comprehensive approach transforms individuals into thorough professionals sought not only in hospitality and tourism but also in industries such as retail, banking, and cruise lines.
Network with the right kind of people because trust me, it’s networking with your peers and your seniors that gets you the new job opportunities. So the better you network and you should not come with blinkers that just come to the department to the college but mingle with other students as well.
Upon joining, students should harbor a passion for excellence in their field, aiming to perform exceptionally in the industry. Networking plays a pivotal role; connecting with peers and seniors opens doors to new job opportunities. It’s essential to break away from silos and interact with students from diverse fields, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, MBA programs, and mass communication. Embracing this broader outlook is integral to university life.
Enjoying university life while staying passionate about professional goals is crucial. Finally, presenting oneself professionally through well-groomed attire enhances the charismatic persona that attracts companies seeking talented individuals. These guidelines empower students to navigate the evolving landscape of the travel and hospitality industry successfully.