20 years ago, when the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI) was invited to India by the ministry of tourism in 1994, hospitality education was still in its youth. Dennie Mathews, chief managing officer, AHLEI talks about the institute’s contribution to Indian hospitality and the way ahead By Steena Joy
How has AHLEI evolved in its journey since 1994?
AHLEI came into India at a time and moment when India needed it the most.We are proud to have been the first international hospitality education provider to set up an office in India and it has been a long journey of contributing, learning and rewarding experience. While I would not say it has been a smooth sail but we are happy to have contributed to the career and professional development to several thousands of Indian students and hospitality professionals. We are today associated with a number of private hospitality institutes which deliver our various levels of programmes and it is encouraging to see many of our graduates placed well in the industry. Besides, we have in recent years been working very closely with top hotel chains including Indian Hotels, Royal Orchid, Sarovar, Mahindra Resorts, etc. by providing them with our online as well as skill programmes for their employees’ continuing education and training. Our engagement levels with both academic and industry today is quite high and this in itself is a testimony of how the educator and the ultimate employer value our programmes.
How has the institute contributed to the Indian hospitality sector?
If you were to step into any hospitality conclave or conference today, you will not come back without hearing the common refrain from hoteliers and owners of the challenges of employee attrition and secondly unskilled labour force! This is exactly the space we have worked with in the hospitality industry. Students do our management programmes and are groomed to be hoteliers in demand and at the same time we offer professional certifications and continuing education/ training programmes so that hoteliers can use these as tools to retain good talent and get them skilled. Our programmes are global in nature and standardised for all the 55+ countries where we have a presence, yet recognising the specific needs for the India market we have modified some of our products so that Indian hoteliers find our offerings even more attractive and befitting the local expectations.
How has the hospitality education scenario changed in the past decade?
The Indian hospitality education map I would say has been dynamic with rapid changes coming in at policy level, student expectations and industry expectations. When we began our journey, there was no university in India which offered a degree programme and the highest qualification available was only a diploma. Today, you would see that there are almost 50 universities in India which offer hospitality degree programmes. This has opened up a lot more choice for the student community, which has become demanding from both, quality and prospective job opportunities perspective of the programmes they enroll into. These trends of degree programme availability also lead to the decline of the diploma market. While most of these long term programmes groom students to become managers, the industry has been short staffed at the line level, non-supervisory staff and this is where quality education or a proper skilling programme need is deeply felt. We at AHLEI are privileged to assist hotel chains with an excellent skill certification programme, which is world class and of globally benchmarked standard. There are not many quality education/ skill providers in this level but this is the next boom sector – vocational skill training and certification.
How do Indian hospitality education institutes compare with international ones?
Indian hospitality education institutes have come a long way and are transitioning into world class institutes. Today, there are only a handful which fall in this category but the transition has begun. Private hospitality education institutes are changing the face of hospitality education in India. Most quality institutes today are networked/ affiliated with foreign institutions to be either their content and qualification partners or have twinning programme arrangements, faculty exchange arrangement, etc. All these changes setting in are very market driven as Indian students always would seek the best return for the investment they are chipping into their education. While it is true that Swiss schools continue to hold a sway and name for themselves, yet we are seeing Indian schools able to retain talented students with themselves by providing world class infrastructure, curriculums and faculty. We still are a long way to reach high quality programme delivery providers but the current state shows that education providers are serious in providing quality yet affordable education comparable to international institutions.
What is the way forward for AHLEI in India?
While we are continuing to work with hospitality institutes, our current focus is on vocational skill certification programmes and professional certifications for the hospitality professionals. Continuing education is not a very popular concept in India yet, but we believe educating people on the need of continuing education and the value of being certified at one’s area of work is important to keep oneself at the cutting edge of knowledge and skill relevance in today’s changing industry dynamics. We at AHLEI continue to strive to be the first in introducing programmes in areas which may today not have the demand but we believe would eventually be of importance and demand. We partner with the right partners to develop all our content and qualification. For eg in this year 2014, we have come up with three major and very relevant programmes for the industry – first is partnered with TripAdvisor – a certificate programme in ensuring one’s guests gives good reviews for the property ; second is a programme in partnership with ECPAT on controlling human trafficking in situations where hotels are used as conduits and the third programme is developed partnering with STR Global – called Certification in Hotel Industry Analytics, a programme aimed to learn the math in the industry. These are examples of our commitment to the industry and the programmes we release worldwide are at the same time being made available to the Indian professional at affordable pricing!
What is your advice to aspiring hospitality students?
One line of advice: “This is the best time to be a hospitality student, over the next three to four decades we are bound to see a boom in the industry and this will in turn need quality professionals and you could be one of the success stories of tomorrow.”