Hospitality education is undergoing transformation as COVID-19 has necessitated a blend of contactless technologies with personalised service. In an interview, Dilip Puri, founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality (ISH) and former MD of Starwood Hotels & Resorts South Asia, said the impact of COVID-19 on the sector is waning. Excerpts:
What has been impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality education sector?
It was clearly impacted. Two groups of students — 2020 and 2021 batches — were majorly impacted from job point of view in the hospitality sector. I want to emphasise hospitality of hotels because evenpre-COVID, fewer students studying hospitality were looking to join the mainstream hotel industry.
Over the last 8 to 10 years, other sectors such as luxury retail, luxury real estate, QSR and restaurant business have been growing and many of these sectors do hire students from hospitality schools. Therefore, the impact of the hotel industry not hiring for two years has been questioned by the fact that there are many other sectors which are thriving.
Several new businesses have come up in the e-commerce space and they are constantly looking for hospitality talent. So, the impact is there for people who want to join the mainstream hotel industry.
The impact on the hospitality industry is not going to last long. It may be slower to recover, but when the recovery happens, it will be like a true hockey stick. Whatever recovery you have seen in India in hospitality is largely due to domestic leisure travel which is going to grow.
In many ways, this pandemic is giving a huge amount of impetus to the development of leisure products which is very good for the domestic market in the long term.
What has been the learning from COVID-19?
We actually found the switch to online worked very well because we were forced to re-look at our content, our curriculums. One was the validity of that curriculum given that in a COVID environment many things are going to change. Employers are going to operate a hotel with half the number of people they used to in pre-pandemic times. It means, one person will be doing two people’s job. That means one person has to be way smarter than the two people of the past. That person has to be multi-task, multi-skilled, [have] ability to work in a virtual environment, ability to still provide personalised services to guests but without being in contact with them.
Secondly, in many ways, the pandemic has forced us to adopt technology faster and digitise our content in which it becomes more learner friendly, and you are able to make it much more efficient in its delivery to students. This online digital mixing of education is going to stay post-pandemic.
Most universities, colleges even schools will be mixing up almost up to 50% of the curriculums and learnings which can be easily delivered digitally and in the online medium.
How about student intake during pandemic?
Our typical drop out ratios were higher in 2020 than what they were in 2019 and 2018 which means, students wanted to study but as the pandemic continued, either due to financial reasons or the fear of COVID they dropped out.
Several factors impacted us last year, but this year has not shown the same trend. Now, there is a greater optimism.
Our new students will join in September, and we have an intake which is higher than it was last year. So, we are clearly growing, and we are seeing that trend that there is a recovery happening notwithstanding any possibility of a [COVID] third wave perhaps.
Lots of people have lost jobs. What is the level of reskilling happening?
Yes, there is a significant amount of reskilling happening. Our Post Graduate programmes are designed to upskill, reskill and acquire new skills. So, it is designed in a way, you spend six months in campus, five months interning with the employer and that same employer after that internship provides you a permanent job. These students will be far ahead of their peers who didn’t get an opportunity to up-skill but continued to work.
Imagine what a contradiction it is to say a hotel provides you very personalised service but with contactless manner and you suddenly think that how do I merge contactless technology with personalisation? Now, that’s a whole new way of thinking — how will you interact with the guest?
The global services industry sources professionals from India. Has COVID changed this?
The Middle East is a very popular place for careers. Close to 30% of the overall employee base of hotels in the Middle East would ideally be Indian. As this pandemic wears off, more Indians will go there. There is no significant change in the number of people going in pre-pandemic or post-pandemic times. Indian students, especially chefs, do very well internationally. They are considered amongst skilled workers in Australia, Canada and Europe. International mobility of Indian hospitality student will only continue to grow and the pandemic will not have any material impact.
What is the new trend?
The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) is very visionary. It proposes to allow international universities to come into India and grant a degree here in collaboration with an Indian institution. With this, a larger number of educational institutions in India will have access to high quality education of these global university brands. Now, students can do two years in India and two years abroad, they can integrate masters by doing five years in one go rather than six years.
What is your scale-up plan?
India is a very large market and education can be seen as a recession-proof business like healthcare.
The demand for high quality global higher education is very strong and going to grow bigger and bigger. We will bring in many more alliances and would, in the next two to three years, build a second campus either in the West or in the South of India.
We believe that the world of food and cuisine is one of the continuing big trends. Beyond cooking and being a chef, today food photography, food blogging, food technology and food entrepreneurship are emerging areas. We will build high level of skill providing facilities across India in a few years.