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A New Approach To English Training for Hotel Staff

In 2020 there will be thousands of new hotel openings around the world. It is reported that one leading hotel brand is planning one thousand openings in Asia Pacific alone, creating an estimated 50,000 new job opportunities.

Are there enough skilled staff to service this demand? Probably not, but hotels have the Human Resources/training departments in place to train the skills required, to suit their brand.

However, a high percentage of these openings will be in countries where English is not a first language. Based on TripAdvisor reviews, hotel guests have an expectation, that hotel staff will have the English skills to deliver the level of service they expect. Specifically, to; check them in and out, serve them in a restaurant, answer their questions about the hotel, provide recommendations on local tourist attractions and to deal with their complaints. Is this expectation reasonable, and if so, how do hotels address it?

Some hotels employ a guest relations representative who speaks English, and refer all English-speaking guest enquiries to them. Other hotels rely on managers, who have a level of English, to train staff to speak to guests in English. However, each of these solutions has associated problems, e.g. the guest relations rep can’t be everywhere at all times, and the managers may not have the skills to teach the English required.

So how can a hotel meet this expectation of their English-speaking guests more effectively? Ideally, all front-line staff should have the specific English needed to deliver the level of customer service required.

Should the onus be on the employee to learn English in order to carry out the duties of their position? If so, then English schools and online training are available. However, as the English they will learn will not be job specific, it will take a long time to reach the level required in their position.

A more effective way to address this is for the hotel to take the lead by providing onsite training to staff in the specific English they require to meet the needs of guests. Done correctly, the desired level of English can be achieved in a very short timeframe. The solution is to focus on the language skills of speaking and listening, and the English words and phrases that relate to their specific position, and the things a guest may ask. For instance, is it important for reception staff to know the English word – ceiling? Not really, as how likely is it that a guest would ask about the ceiling? The word for air-conditioner, on the other hand, is one they should know as it is likely to be used as part of a question/statement, “my air conditioner is broken” or “do you have air conditioning?”

By setting tight, achievable parameters for the English being taught, it is possible to provide staff with the English skills to provide the level of customer service expected by English-speaking guests.

The 4 Key Areas of Hotel-Specific English

  1. Hotel-Specific Vocabulary:

By focusing only on the vocabulary needed for speaking to guests, the time it takes to learn new English words is dramatically reduced. The vocabulary taught to each member of staff may differ based on the position they hold within the hotel, but would include:

  • Specific items in hotel rooms
  • Items in restaurants & bars
  • facilities provided by the Hotel
  • transport and local attractions
  • the time
  • floor and room numbers
  1. Recognising a Question to Trigger an Appropriate Response:

A large percentage of interaction with guests involves the guest asking a question. Therefore, staff should know the English words that indicate a question is being asked. It is not necessary for staff to understand every word the guest says, but if they can identify the question indicator words or phrases (e.g. where is, can I, could you), and the noun in the sentence (from the hotel specific vocabulary), they can then provide the appropriate response.

For example, if the question indicator is ‘could I’ and the noun is ‘towel’, the standard response may be: ‘certainly, I will get you a towel’.

  1. Memorised Scripts / Branding:

Most hotels have training manuals to enable staff to deliver their brand. Scripts are used for: guest check-in, check-out, taking a reservation, seating guests in a restaurant, taking food orders etc. Therefore, English equivalent scripts should be practised, ideally in the real-life setting (at reception, at a table in the restaurant), and be reinforced through role plays until staff feel comfortable and confident to deliver them.

  1. Greetings & Polite Phrases:

All hotel staff should learn some basic phrases to greet guests and offer polite pleasantries.

As with all training the participants need to be fully engaged in the process, and its advantages to them, for it to be successful. The cultural exchange between trainers and trainees is also paramount to the success of the training. However, by building a rapport and keeping the training fun and engaging the learning process will happen very quickly and the hotel will ultimately benefit.

Of course, all of the above goes back to the question – is it reasonable for English-speaking guests to have an expectation that hotel employees can speak English, even in non-English speaking countries? Probably not, but based on TripAdvisor and other online review platforms that expectation exists, and hotels cannot afford to ignore it.

With next years’ forecast for new hotel openings, the competition for market share will surely increase. Your point of difference may just be the results your staff achieve from this new approach to hotel-specific English language training.

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