Hospitality, Crisis and Promise

By Bill Ryan 

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I especially mourn for what is happening to the hospitality industry. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, amusement parks, theaters, concerts, sporting events and the like are where we go to refresh and rewind by enjoying time with friends and family, interacting with others, and being treated warmly by caring staffs. Hospitality is in many ways one of the most human of all career choices. Here is where your value is largely determined by how well you engage with others and how well you make others feel. Being socially distant is aversive to hospitality. It’s like trying to paint landscapes with only two colors. The genial experience is catastrophically abridged.

Hospitality was to be the great redeemer for a world becoming increasingly technical, remote, and isolated. At its core, hospitality resisted the forces of automation and outsourcing transforming so many other lines of work. It benefited from an economy relatively flush with disposable income. This industry really has made the world a better place to live. And now we ask ourselves, what happens to us all if our capacity to be social beings is painfully curtailed for the long term?

In the US it’s unlikely we’ll see government stepping in to support hospitality for more than several months. Projections point to the second half of 2021 before a widely distributed and effective vaccine is put into place. Therefore, social distancing is expected to be among the chief tactics we have to mitigate outbreaks during our slow build up to herd immunity. Then there us the very real fear people have about mingling as before. Think of the questions we could have while in crowds, Who among these people is asymptomatic and carrying the virus? Why is that person coughing? Is it right to hug or shake hands with this friend anymore? How can I keep my glasses from fogging when wearing this darn mask? Many may and probably will opt for staying home.

There are no easy answers or quick fixes for hospitality. That said, two broad ideas come to mind that may point to some sort of solution for the future of those whose hospitality jobs are evaporating.

This is a time for hospitality professionals to reflect on their skills and the value they bring to the public. In particular, inventory what it is about your engagements with people that activates your energy and brings deep satisfaction. Then think about other more employable areas where these talents can be expressed. For example, healthcare related services benefit from a workforce rich in soft hospitable skills infused with those of the technical expertise providers. Sales and customer services also are enhanced by those who can deliver personal, attentive, and solution-oriented care and advice. Think about it. There are many fields in which a hospitable mindset and presentation can find a home.

Secondly, now is a time for the entrepreneurial, innovative, resourceful, and ingenious among us to design and develop novel ways of offering hospitality contributions that haven’t been tried before. The pent-up public demand is certainly there. Necessity is still the mother of invention. Let’s please be pleasantly surprised by having creative hospitality professionals discover new and refreshing ways of building community, strengthening social interaction, and giving us respite from these stressful times, all while maintaining safe and prudent distancing measures.

Times were dark in the economy ten years ago and they are even darker now. But if we’re lucky, it may be our friends in hospitality who can shine a light when we all most need it.

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