iol2A changing world means changing travel patterns, and the hospitality industry has to adapt – or face the risk of not connecting with the travellers of tomorrow.

The chief operating officer for Marriott International, Middle East and Africa and Business Leader for Protea Hotels in South Africa, Mark Satterfield, said in the last 20 to 30 years, they had seen the growth of the middle class globally and improved air routes, which has allowed for the rise of new travel markets.

This meant that young people from states that previously restricted their citizens from travel now have the freedom of movement their parents could not enjoy.

“New outbound travel markets are opening up, and this is changing the face of travel throughout the world. The traditional dominance of travellers from the United Kingdom, North America and Western Europe is now being challenged by significant increases in the number of international travellers from countries like China, India and the Middle East,’ he said.

Satterfield believes that the success of the travel industry in catering for these new travellers hinges on a number of factors, of which cultural sensitivity is one key issue.  “The corporate hospitality industry grew out of the United States and countries in Western Europe, and so the way we dealt with guests in the past was based on these countries’ cultures and behaviours.  But this has to be adapted to take into consideration the many new travellers we now host from varied cultures around the world. Our need for an evolving approach is not just because of our desire to deliver relevant hospitality – it is necessary for the future successes of our business,’ he added.

The President and CEO of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson, said the ability to attract the most diverse customers and reflect local cultures in hotels will propel future success and global growth of a business.

The company established an Executive Global Diversity and Inclusion Council, chaired by the Sorenson and Satterfield.  Staff training includes a learning curriculum focused on cultural competence. The company offers learning tools for language skills and cultural awareness. Staff can access information for well over 100 countries, with information covering the political, economic and historical background of a country along with societal and cultural norms and practices.

“The Chinese travel market is certainly significant for the future of our South African travel and tourism sector,” Satterfield explained.

“Visitor numbers for the country are increasing rapidly among many markets but the Chinese one shows the most dramatic growth.  Some staff in South Africa have embarked on training to offer particular levels of service for Chinese guests, such as learning the basics of spoken Mandarin, so that they can prepare correspondence in the guest’s language and answer a guest’s queries.

“Being culturally aware makes all the difference to the experience of our guests, and it is especially important when they consider whether to make a return trip to our country in the future. By investing in our staff and their understanding of cultural awareness, we are in fact investing in the long-term growth of our industry,” he said.

This article was first published by IOL Travel on 16 February 2017.