Dimitris Manikis, President – EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, in an insightful interview reflects on trends in the hospitality industry, the talent crunch, being ready for the new-age traveller and the future of hospitality.
Today’s Traveller: How do you relate lifestyle to the hospitality industry?
Dimitris Manikis: Lifestyle is a relative concept. It may mean different things to different people depending on their budget, consumer choices, and preferences. The hospitality industry should be able to cater to various lifestyle segments instead of focussing on just the premium or luxury travellers.
Brands need to build trust with each segment of the travelling population so that everyone can derive the value they seek. The Covid-19 pandemic has once again underlined the importance of nurturing the trust of your customers. Your customers expect not only the highest level of cleanliness but also top-notch services they have come to associate with your brand.
As a customer-friendly enterprise, you must fulfil all the promises your brand stands for. Furthermore, consumer preferences of the new-age traveller have also shifted. Convenience is at the heart of the travel choices we make. A traveller who chooses a luxury property for one of their stays might choose a budget hotel for another. The hospitality industry as a whole should be able to cater to all the segments of the travelling population instead of focusing on a niche.
Today’s Traveller: A recent trend has been the rise of smaller properties in unexplored destinations. Do you think that big hospitality brands, would be willing to develop smaller, budget properties in less-popular destinations?
Dimitris Manikis: With long-distance travel taking a backseat, travellers are now eyeing nearby destinations and smaller properties that give them a more meaningful and intimate experience. There’s a travel boom in tier-2 and -3 cities in India and the world over. Consumers today are willing to travel to far-off places to enjoy a unique experience, say, a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
However, the infrastructure in these smaller cities is still lacking. Affordable air travel, along with hotels catering to various segments of the travelling population, must be available.
I remember my own experiences from my early travelling days when two of us wanted to travel to Barcelona. Although I could manage the air tickets that cost us over 500 euros, we had no money left for a good hotel. This has changed. Today, it is possible to travel to Barcelona for under 80 euros. There’s also a wide variety of accommodation to choose from.
I think the moment is opportune for hospitality and allied industries to develop a robust ecosystem that considers the realities of new-age travel and caters to the demands of the new generation of travellers.
Today’s Traveller: What do you think the hospitality industry can do to stay relevant to young people who would become potential travellers of the future?
Dimitris Manikis: We live in an age of social media boom. My daughter lives in the world of the Instagram bubble. Social media influencers post pictures and reels of unknown eateries that become viral trends. Social media influencers post pictures and reels of unknown eateries that become viral trends. For instance, a viral post about a shop selling bubble tea will result in hundreds of young people lining up for it.
The hospitality industry must leverage the power of social media, and employ young minds, who can bring fresh ideas.
Hospitality is all about the experiences you offer. You can’t provide meaningful experiences without the human touch.
Today’s Traveller: The hospitality industry is still mired in traditional ways although the world around us has changed fundamentally. How can the industry address this problem and attract young talent?
Dimitris Manikis: It is sad to see the younger generation dropping out of hospitality schools or shifting careers because of the lack of opportunities in the industry. Data shows that nearly 60 per cent of hospitality graduates drop out or choose alternate career paths in banking, finance or IT.
This means that the industry as a whole is staring at a talent crunch. This is a challenge that the industry must overcome if it wants to stay relevant to the generations to come.
Last week, I was in The Hague, attending a meeting of an advisory body of a hospitality training school. The authorities seemed to be concerned about the fact that students of hospitality are opting for alternate career paths.
One of the suggestions that came up during our brainstorming session was to set up two different boards — one to oversee mainstream hospitality education and the other, a younger board comprising young people to bring in fresh ideas. Hopefully, this might help the industry to address the crisis of human resources it currently faces.
Part of the problem seems to emanate from the treatment meted out to young graduates who enter the industry. I spoke to four students during my interactive session at The Hague. All of them told me that their decision to leave the industry for good was taken because of the toxic work environment they faced.
So, the problem starts at the very root. The military mentality that we see in the hospitality industry must change. We need to realize that if we don’t change the way we function, we would be left without young people to provide the experiences that we claim to offer.
Today’s Traveller: How do you see the emergence of new leadership in the industry?
Dimitris Manikis: I wish I was a couple of decades younger to be able to witness the change that the industry is undergoing as a whole. While there are challenges ahead, there are also endless opportunities for the industry to transform and reposition itself. I have enormous respect for those leadership teams who are genuinely interested in bringing onboard younger talent.
Today’s Traveller: Your thoughts on the Indian hospitality industry?
Dimitris Manikis: I think the hospitality sector in India has an enormous potential to expand. The total number of international travellers to India is less than 10 million people. For a country of more than 1.3 billion people, this number is not good enough. The government needs to invest heavily in infrastructure to attract foreign tourists. I read in the newspaper that the Indian government is investing heavily in modernizing existing airports and commissioning new ones. I think that’s a great move that will benefit tourism in the country.
Today’s Traveller: Any final words on the social impact of the hospitality industry, especially in the context of Covid-19?
Dimitris Manikis: I am extremely proud of what the industry has done for the community at large. Over the last two years, while the industry was struggling for survival, it provided support to several Covid-relief efforts. Hotel chains opened their doors to frontline workers and provided food and medicine to the elderly free of cost. That is the essence of the industry I have come to love and admire.
The industry is at the cusp of a great change. It needs to embrace the change to be future-ready by being more receptive to the expectations of the generation alpha — children who were born during the early- to mid-2010s. The real challenge for the hospitality industry would be to turn them into consumers of the future.
Read more: Today’s Traveller Interviews