Hospitality industry education post-Covid-19 | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Hospitality industry education post-Covid-19

7 February, 2021
Chairman, Asia Lanka Hotel School, A.B. Lalith De Silva
Chairman, Asia Lanka Hotel School, A.B. Lalith De Silva

A realistic and optimistic approach is a dire need for Sri Lanka to enhance the rebound of the hospitality industry following the harmful impact of Covid-19. The abruptly halted hospitality education must adapt and re-emerge from this dreadful experience.

In an interview with Sunday Observer Business, Chairman, Asia Lanka Hotel School, A.B. Lalith De Silva, one of the pioneers of private-sector hospitality educationists, shared valuable insights into the future challenges of hospitality education.   

Excerpts:

Q. You are one of the first Sri Lankans to take the challenge to set-up a private hospitality school in 1984. How do you recollect the experience?

A. Back in 1984, there was a single state-run hotel school for young students to gain qualifications in the hospitality industry. As I recollect, there were less than 5000 rooms in the country during that period although gaining entry to government hotel school was excessively competitive.

As my father, the late A.B.C. De Silva was a respected educationist and the Founder President of the Ceylon Teachers Union for a long period; I was exposed to issues in the educational sector in Sri Lanka. When researching, I have identified the potential of hospitality education giving me the idea of starting-up Asia Lanka Hotel School.  

Q. Opening the airport for tourists is a positive step taken by the government even amidst criticism. How does that affect hospitality education? 

A.  Reopening the borders is one of the most optimistic moves the government has made since the outbreak. Not only the decision was bold but also it is a ‘must-do’ action. As you know, tourism is the third highest foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. The income from the industry is nearly US$ 4 billion a year. Almost the entire revenue earned remains inside the country.  

Except for the income from foreign employment, tourism is the only such revenue where the outflow of foreign exchange is almost zero as there is no outflow of foreign exchange by way of imports. Therefore, the income derived from the tourism industry is irreplaceable. As for the hotel education and training, we have reopened the institute after a lapse of almost a year concurrently with the government›s decision to open the country for tourism.  

I believe that if not for the unfortunate second wave of Covid-19, by this time Sri Lanka would have been the most sought-after country for tourists across the globe.

Q. The trend up to late 2019 was clear: The hospitality industry was booming worldwide and the demand for qualified specialists was increasing. However, Covid-19 has put an abrupt end to the industry. How fast do you think the industry will bounce back to normal? 

A. Hospitality is a growth industry. Travel is a basic longing for people all over the world. Travel will undoubtedly recuperate faster than many other industries and so will the hotel schools. If the steps that were taken by the government to improve tourism continue in a similar fashion, at least by the end of this year the industry will recover up to a great extent.

However, the entire scenario depends on how successfully the country controls the pandemic. So far, the government has contained the spread somewhat successfully without a sharp spike daily in infected and death rates.     

Q. Most of the Sri Lankan educational institutions have already switched to remote studies. What is your view on that and are you planning to start online learning? 

A. We certainly have to switch to a digital learning environment. Since inception, we have been serving only in physical classrooms. However, because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, particularly due to volatile and the vague time factor, we have to convert into online education. As far as assignments, oral examinations, and presentations, etc. online education can be offered. Nevertheless, the sit-down examinations and any type of practical tests have to be done in-campus. 

Q. An important part of your practical studies are happening in hotels. At this moment, due to the pandemic, many hotels have ceased to operate. How do you deal with that? 

A. I am pretty confident that the industry will recover and the hotels will be reopened no sooner than the situation improves worldwide.  Even with the ongoing situation, when they learn that Sri Lanka is safe to visit, the tourists will arrive and the business will bounce back.

Therefore, I am personally in constant touch with our partner hotels and other institutions to restart assigning interns for practical training.  However, we understand that they too are dealing with major challenges right now as the hospitality industry was hit harder than many other businesses.  

Q. What effect will Covid-19 have on the hospitality sector in general? Is it an opportunity or a challenge?  

A. Looking at the industry as a whole, I presume that Sri Lanka will have an enormous opportunity, more than many other tourist destinations in the world. The customary image we have had for many years as one of the best tourist destinations due to the biodiversity and the beauty of the landscape prevails. Sri Lanka was recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a country that contained the virus extremely effectively. This is more reason for tourists to choose Sri Lanka in the years to come.  

Also, we have seen a lot of digitalisation take place in hotels such as automatic check-ins, booking procedures, and so forth even before the pandemic. I think this will accelerate further with the ongoing health crisis. Minimum contacts with the staff are not only hygienic but also can reduce costs as well. 

Q. Finally, can you tell us something about your institution, Asia Lanka Hotel School?   

A. The institute, a multi-story facility in Nugegoda, is not merely a hospitality education center but a fully recognised vocational training school with government approval to issue NVQ certifications up to level four. Until last year our annual student-intake was approximately 3,000 persons.

We offer hospitality industry related Diploma courses on management, cookery, front office, and restaurant and bar, and more. We also conduct vocational training courses on pre-school teacher training and all types of beauty-culture related subjects. Also, we were appointed by the Ministry of Tourism of Western Provincial Council to conduct free hotel industry related training for needy students in the province.   

Q. Would you like to add something more?

A. I was involved in hospitality industry education for over 35 years and have seen many changes, improvements, developments, and transformations during the period. The interest I personally have in the industry makes me more enthusiastic every passing day.

I have many plans to implement in the next few years and my solemn wish is that the Covid-19 impact will pass soon and the world will be back to normal. 

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