Learning from adversity: shaping tomorrow’s future leaders – How sustainable change is a high priority coming out of times of crisis

The PACE Dimensions team regularly conducts interviews with industry leaders to develop thought leadership on strategically important topics, sectors and markets for research development. This article draws on an interview with Regine von Stieglitz, president board of directors at Hotelschool The Hague, and shares her insights on the next generation of industry leaders.

Finding ways to offer contact moments to students studying in a city in lockdown is just one of the many challenges facing the Hotelschool The Hague, the Netherlands. Regine von Stieglitz, president board of directors at the prestigious university, explains, “Physical face-to-face education and experience is paramount so that people can develop. Our students today are living through a practical experience of crisis and learning to be adaptable to change while overcoming huge fears. But they also need human-to-human interaction and are seeking freedom. We’re staying flexible in our approach, and while learning may be digital, we are ensuring students know they are welcome in our community, off line on our campus or online.”  

A traditionally lively university, renowned for successful partnerships with industry, and packed with practical learning hotels and hospitality outlets, Hotelschool The Hague is embracing new routes to building connections between people. Virtual runs around the campus give students and staff an association with the ‘real’ world, and while lectures and events may be online, dormitories remain open to allow students to find their place in the hotel school family. 

PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE: BUILDING THE ADVERSITY QUOTIENT IN THE TRAVEL LEADERS OF TOMORROW

“Leaders need to learn how to handle adversity more and more. The students here at Hotelschool The Hague will be some of the most well-equipped in this area as they begin their careers. They have learnt first-hand how to conquer resistance to change, how to handle extreme pressure, and they have developed the resilience to do this both personally and in their education.” Explains von Stieglitz, who is passionate about ensuring that students also are adequately supported in developing a strong emotional skill set. 

She adds, “The reality of studying for a bachelors or masters during a worldwide pandemic more than addresses the intellectual and adversity quotients that tomorrow’s leaders need. We have to provide the framework to safeguard these young people too and ensure that we are meeting their emotional need for life experience and social contacts. We can’t provide that in the same way as before, and so we have to adapt to more distance in how we do things. Ensuring the graduates of the university garner enough of the emotional quotient when it comes to equipping them for the future is a real challenge when operating in this environment.” 

This generation of students is not only learning through the heat of the Covid-19 crisis, but they will also be the people who bear the brunt of its legacy in their careers. This is bringing interesting change into what a generation of young people expect from the brand they interact with. It is also nurturing a future base of travel and hospitality professionals who are used to the extremes of managing through difficult circumstances and skilled at adapting quickly to uncomfortable change. 

LEARNING FROM ADVERSE EVENTS: HOW THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION IS DRIVING CHANGES IN THE TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

“The students of today are digitally savvy, and the shift to digital learning hasn’t meant fundamental change for them,” outlines von Stieglitz. She continues, “They see that connecting is still possible, and that there are ways to experience education and to learn without travelling somewhere. They have also seen that conferences and events delivered digitally can be effective, and in some cases possibly more so, and that is changing how they may want to engage with such occasions in the future.”

Of course, the accelerating pace of digital interaction wasn’t a new trend because of the pandemic, but circumstances have well and truly cemented behaviours. Interestingly, what the pandemic has done is make it clear to young people that change is possible, and that new business models are needed within the travel and hospitality sector in areas such as business travel, meetings and events. “The young graduates coming out of the Hotelschool The Hague today are thrilled by the idea that their experiences are driving a change that is also much needed by the world,” said von Stieglitz. 

She adds, “What is clear is that we need to redefine hospitality. Outside of these extreme events, there would have been more resistance to the digital revolution. The opportunity has been presented, and it has been made possible within these crisis times. Our students are embarking on their careers re-thinking everything.” One thing is certain, the hotel school students are now excited to set further change in motion. The incumbents of the hospitality industry need to be ready for greater disruption through new ideas and approaches from the leaders of tomorrow.

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LOOKING AHEAD: THE TREND THAT CONSUMERS WON’T ACCEPT NOT BEING ADDRESSED

For the Covid-classes graduating from the Hotelschool The Hague, the digital revolution isn’t the only one setting out fundamental changes to the future of the travel and hospitality industry. A sustainable revolution has also been gathering momentum over the last five to six years and is now a major component of any business strategy coming out of the pandemic. It is clear to von Stieglitz that hospitality that is not sustainable will not be accepted by guests, especially the generations who have come through the university over the last few years.  

“Curtailed international travel has given us all a real opportunity to pause and see the impact of challenges such as over-tourism,” von Stieglitz explains. “We have also seen how important well-managed tourism is to remote areas of the world where the industry provides opportunities for work, education and greater standards of living and wellbeing for local people. Business models based just on financial success are no longer acceptable, and taking into account the footprint a hospitality development has on the world must be balanced too. Consumers are re-thinking their concerns and hospitality businesses must be able to address this.”

There is a clear opportunity as international travel resumes for tourism to re-open more sustainably. Steps can be put in place to prevent over-tourism from reoccurring, and for new developments and projects to rethink their impact on the environment. Not only are the consumers in the market for travel demanding this, but the next generation of travel and hospitality professionals will not tolerate working with businesses that do not play their part. As von Stieglitz adds, “To this generation, issues such as carbon footprint are reputationally far more important than many other image factors for a hospitality brand. Businesses simply have to consider this, and with far more urgency than before.”

GREEN BALANCE: SUSTAINABILITY IN THE TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

Students at Hotelschool The Hague have been studying and exploring commercially realistic ways for hospitality to be more sustainable for many years. For the industry, considerations such as carbon-footprint are becoming major reputational risk factors. As trend predictors see consumers increasingly choosing ‘purpose over profit’ businesses to meet their needs as we emerge from the pandemic, ensuring hospitality can be sustainable is an important area to explore. 

The university’s  established Genio Worldwide Innovation Summit – an event where leading students from around the world pitch solutions to major business challenges to CEOs of global hotel groups – has now evolved to become the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge. The recurring theme of sustainability has garnered this change and will see the Hotelschool The Hague, alongside other leading hospitality universities and technical institutions, accelerate the pace at which sustainability innovations are embraced by the industry.  

Themes addressed at recent challenges include reducing the ‘food-print’ of new hotels by embracing green roofs in design so produce for hotel kitchens can be grown as part of the building, architectural solutions that see less than 50 per cent less air conditioning cooling required, new food and beverage concepts to reduce food waste and more. Importantly, the challenges look at everything from hotel construction to the operational side to deliver commercially viable answers. 

ANSWERING INDUSTRY CHALLENGES: DEFINING THE FORCES AFFECTING GROWTH AND CHANGE IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

For von Stieglitz, the most exciting element is the collaboration between education institutes and industry to empower change. She says, “With these challenges we are seeing the knowledge that we gain increase year on year. By partnering with commercial organisations, and having travel and hospitality CEOs as part of these events, we are distributing impactful information to the industry. Business leaders set the challenges to our students, and so we are meeting real commercial needs with successful sustainable concepts. These contributions are helping the industry evolve.”

Answering the industry’s challenges has been a focus area for the university during the pandemic. Thesis work has shifted from practical to theoretical, with students’ research work heavily concentrated on the pandemic and its long term impact. While students may not have been able to experience as many placements, they have worked alongside industry leaders to support the sector in adapting to fundamental change. “We’ve been able to deliver more consultancy projects than ever before,” outlines von Stieglitz. “Our students are making a meaningful contribution to how the hospitality industry responds and plans ahead in these times of crisis. Our adaptability has allowed the hotel school to play a key role in innovating and coming up with new ideas that will set a course for the future success of the industry.” 

Always passionate about how Hotelschool The Hague brings together supporting industry challenges with enhancing education, von Stieglitz is proud of the flexibility and adaptability of the university. “From the bigger picture of remaining relevant to both industry and education, to more practical day-to-day operations, we are a beautiful example of how to be more relevant if we always look to contribute more,” she explains. Just one area in which the university is delivering this is a pilot around regular testing of students so that dormitories can function as normal. The applications of the results from this pilot will help set out the pathway for how hospitality can re-open safely in a world where we have to learn to live with Covid-19 for the long term. 

The Covid-crisis has allowed the university more time and resource to shine a light on industry challenges that need addressing, and also provided circumstances where significant reappraisals and reapproaches are possible for the businesses they are supporting. It is these ‘beautiful examples’ of contact moments between industry and education that are shaping positive changes in travel and hospitality.

The series of executive interviews are just one area in which PACE Dimensions provides thought leadership and advisory services to its clients. For more executive interviews with industry leaders please click here

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