Africa Seeks Young Talents to Transform Post-Covid Hotel Industry
Deserted airports, list of countries not to visit, historically low occupancy rates for hotels, unable to crawl back above the 10% mark. But the story does not end there... and Africa can be at the heart of the rebirth of an entire industry, if we give ourselves the means to do so.
Today’s hospitality industry is facing a complicated reality made up of layoffs, bankruptcies and uncertainty. In this most worrying context, it will be necessary to show solidarity and compassion towards the thousands of employees pushed into precarious situations.
Simultaneously, it is time for an existential reflection in the tourism industry. What is it really all about? Where are we going? What role can Africa play? And for the youth, is it pure madness to embark today, when the hotel industry seems to be collapsing, on a hospitality management education?
The real question is “was there a better time in the history of the tourism and hotel industry to start studying management? Because it’s a good bet that future graduates, who will be leaving school in 3-4 years, will be better equipped than their predecessors and that the field will be free to create, reinvent, discover and be the proud pioneers of a new hospitality industry, to which a far greater ecological awareness and an ability to adapt will have been instilled.
Africa – youth and resilience
For many countries on the continent, tourism is one of the pillars of economic growth. Many hopes therefore rest on this sector, which is now being undermined by an unprecedented pandemic. Countries such as Kenya, Egypt or Morocco, whose GDP is so closely linked to the health of tourism, would be right to be concerned about the situation, but with a little hindsight and a global reading, we can see that Africa holds a unique joker up its sleeve; that of a young population that has learned to innovate through pragmatism and ingenuity, rather than through torrents of investment. Furthermore, many African countries (especially sub-Saharan) boast outbreak management experience envied by the rest of the world. Indeed, for several reasons, including the youthfulness of the population and past experience in managing health crises, Africa is doing very well on the international scene and has created an exceptional opportunity to become a first-choice destination based on health and safety criteria. Arnaud Jonquet, Regional Recruitment Manager Africa at EHL, reminds us that “African demographic growth is one of the strongest in the world and with it comes a lot of opportunities. Despite a tumultuous period, tourism remains one of the driving forces of the economy in many countries and a priority for the development of states. The development of the presence of major hotel groups on the continent, such as IHG, Radisson and Accor, is accompanied by a need for qualified managers with a base of managerial skills”. The evolution of business models in a period of disruption, he says, is giving way to opportunities for profiles with a high capacity for adaptation in all areas of activity, a predisposition for resilience and expertise in the hospitality business.
But is African tourism ready to take on this responsibility? Seizing this historic opportunity will require a generation of sophisticated leaders, educated in the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, events, leisure, etc.) who will be able to lead the continent’s tourism revolution. Africa is ready and waiting for its pioneers.
Is the hotel business dead?
Questioned on this issue, the Franco-Tunisian Inès Blal, Executive Dean of the prestigious Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) gives an overview of the situation: “A difficult year for the “classic” hotel and restaurant business which requires a face-to-face interaction between the customer and the service provider. Differences in recovery are to be expected between regions and establishments. Some regions will restart earlier, such as Singapore, where our third campus is located. Differences in the speed of recovery between types of hotels (e.g. “Serviced apartments” or individual rentals, compared to offers where more customers are grouped together in the same location). Also, unfortunately, only those establishments with sufficient cash and capital, or low enough expenditures to get through the crisis will remain. We must therefore anticipate a change in the supply environment of the sector”.
A return in two stages
The rebound of the sector will likely occur in two phases. Let’s remember the endless queues in front of McDonald’s worldwide that appeared the very instant major lockdown restrictions were lifted. The whole world is just waiting for one thing: to go back on vacation and live anew. In South Africa, as soon as authorities allowed intra-provincial movements, tourist destinations experienced a very strong influx of domestic customers, as President Zuma recently explained. Many already know their next destination and have dreamed of making it there on a daily basis. The first phase will, therefore, be a direct return of the pendulum, with an enormous demand that must be met as soon as the global health situation allows. Each country is certainly different and will experience this rebound at varying speeds, but many are already thinking about it, armed with past experiences of Ebola, for example, which allow them to apprehend the situation with confidence.
However, the problem is likely to be reversed at that point, when the supply reduced by the contraction of the trade will not be able to meet the demand. What happens then? Let us apply Darwinian thinking to this question, which shows that the greatest evolutionary leaps take place when there is immense exogenous pressure. Cataclysms and mass extinctions have not sounded the death knell for life, but have left a vacuum that life hastened to fill until every niche is comfortably occupied by a new species. This acceleration of evolution, this race to adapt, we will see it in all the professions of the hospitality industry and it will offer unprecedented opportunities.
It is difficult to know exactly what to expect. But one thing is certain: the adventure has only just begun, and the way is clear for the pioneers of tomorrow, who will be able to leave their mark on an entire generation with their passion, creativity and ethical and environmental values.