Monday, September 08, 2008

Hospitality training needs major upgrade in quality and quantity

Chairman of the Viet Nam Tourism Association, Nguyen Phu Duc, talks to Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) about ways to develop human resources for the tourism sector

What are the distinctive characteristics of tourism that should affect the training of human resources for the industry?

Tourists come from different countries, cultures and social classes, and what they expect from the host is enthusiasm and hospitality worth the money they spend.

We should upgrade our tourist service standards, including the environment and facilities, which consist of hotels and entertainment. The staff’s skills and attitudes, from caring gestures to smiling eyes, are essential. All people who come into contact with tourists will affect the standards of tourism.

In my opinion, the tourism industry consists of people who both directly and indirectly work in the sector. That means the provision of tourism service has connections with many parts of society, so it needs a large source of manpower and good training policy.

How do you assess staff training for the tourism industry at present?

We now have about 1 million people working in the tourism sector, or 2 per cent of total employees nationwide. About 53 per cent of tourism employees have not finished elementary school, 18 per cent have an elementary education, 15 per cent have a high-school level education, 12 per cent graduated from colleges and universities and only 0.2 per cent have post-graduate certificates.

About 750,000 people work indirectly for the tourism sector without having received any kind of hospitality training. About 250,000 people work directly in hotels and travel companies. Fourty-two per cent of people providing direct service were trained properly, 38 per cent moved in from other sectors, and the remaining 20 per cent have not received any training.

With little training and education, it is not surprising that the quality of tourism employees is not high. There is also an unequal distribution of trained employees; most trained employees work in urban areas, whereas remote areas do not have any skilled staff. So, I think that overall manpower for tourism is short and weak.

What are the reasons for short-comings in staff training?

The main reason is unprofessional training. There is not any university specifically for tourism in the country. More than 20 universities do have tourism departments. However, teachers in these departments are not required to have any specific qualifications, and they do not have proper textbooks or curricula. Their graduation standards are not high and do not meet real-world demands.

The country has more than 40 vocational schools, of which 15 are in Ha Noi and seven in HCM City. Those schools provide training for many different fields, but only some teach tourism knowledge. There are only four tourism schools in Ha Noi, Hue, Vung Tau and HCM City.

With the increasing demand for manpower for the sector, the volume of training offerings is too small. In addition, we do not yet have professional standards for tourism.

The European Union (EU) Funding Programme is helping us develop 13 levels of professional standards which can be used as a base to develop training. Right now each university teaches in its own way, which leads to different, unequal standards in the sector. For example, a three-star hotel in Ha Noi serves its guests in one way, a three-star hotel in Hai Phong serves in another way, and a hotel of the same stars in Thai Nguyen offers a service of other level.

This problem must be thought about seriously to change the weak points in training employees for tourism.

What should we do to improve the quality of manpower?

First, we should reform the tourism training schools to improve the quality of professors, upgrade facilities and textbooks, and improve the methods of learning and teaching in those schools. We should combine theory with practice.

We should also actively expand new ways of teaching by having experienced staff teach new staff. There should be opportunities for qualified employees in four-or-five-star hotels to teach unskilful colleagues in other hotels.

The EU programme has trained 2,500 people, mostly from enterprises. Every year those people have the responsibility to impart their knowledge to others according to EU standards of human resource training. This way of in-service training is inexpensive and effective, and it will help meet the high demand for manpower for the sector. — VNS