I was at a presentation at the Wavecrest College in Lagos recently. Wavecrest specialises in the hospitality industry, turning out really excellent graduates with certificates and diplomas (including HNDs). Professor Peter Jones, a UK-based educator, came to Lagos to look at Wavecrest, and to make a presentation regarding his thoughts and his activities in this sector.
But before I write about what he told us, here are a couple of examples of how the travel and tourism industry suffers from poor service standards.
I checked in for a flight (yes, I’ll name them, Arik) recently, and greeted the man taking my ticket. When I got no response, I repeated my greeting. “I heard you”, he said “and I chose not to answer you”. Knock me down with a feather? Guess which airline I avoid if I can (yes, I’ll name them, Arik!).
I stayed at a hotel in Abuja (yup, I’ll name them, Hawthorn Suites), and dined in the (empty) restaurant. Nice big menu, I spent some time choosing what I wanted, and ordered (lamb). A full 20 minutes later, the waiter comes back and tells me it is not available, because they “had just sold the last portion”. It’s a lie! They never had it in the first place! I was unhappy, but not unused to such an occurrence, so I asked him what else was not available. After several twists and turns, it turned out that the menu was a work of fiction, and that they had chicken with chips or mash to offer. Only.
And finally, I checked into another hotel (then called Le Meridien in Luanda), the porter takes my bag to my room, and not only hovers around for a tip (I can live with that) but actually sticks his hand out and asks for one!
We have all had similar experiences, haven’t we? I suspect that my friend at Arik in Abuja is past redemption, but the others, and their managers, surely can improve? So what’s the answer?
Back to Prof Jones. He was very forcefully making the case that in his opinion, in today’s world of hospitality education, there is the proven opportunity to turn the process on its head. When I was a hospitality management student, we spent two years in the classroom, then went out and worked in the industry for a year and then returned to the classroom for another year. That year in the middle was great (for me at least, others spent their whole year “carrying the keys”), but seemed unrelated to the periods either side (and yes, we did call it a “sandwich course”!).
Prof Jones makes a very strong case for that being the wrong way round, that the classroom has its place, but the best education will be gained from working in the industry, and then going into the classroom to discuss and build on what was learned on the job in a formal educational setting. Makes sense to me.
The best part of this story is that this is not just a theory, it has been put into practice very successfully in the UK, at the Edge Hotel School based at Wivenhoe House, a country house hotel in Essex. Their degrees are accredited by the University of Essex, and Wivenhoe House is a fully operational hotel, where the students are the staff, with guidance from professionals, and the staff are students. A separate block provides the classroom and other facilities required.
With the exception of Wavecrest, the hospitality schools in Nigeria lack basic facilities (think of a training kitchen with not a single piece of equipment actually working), with a lack of practical knowledge in the teaching faculty, and with graduates who have a piece of paper, but no recognition from the industry.
Can’t we adopt and adapt this in-house, deep immersion training system in Africa? With hotels providing the facilities, benefiting from the student labour, and recognising the value of training to the long-term sustainability of their business? Is management, and the educational sector, enlightened enough?
W Hospitality Group, Lagos