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www.expresshospitality.com FORTNIGHTLY INSIGHT FOR THE HOSPITALITY TRADE
1-15 November 2008  
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Home - Hospitality Life - Article

Guest Writer

Time to put the four-cylinder curriculum model to rest: Part I

Srikanth Beldona


Srikanth Beldona

Arguably, India's hotel industry is comparable with the best in the world. With several Indian hotels occupying top ranks in leading travel publications, the above claim is worthy of some support. In stark contrast is its hospitality-based educational system, which is relatively lesser known and often questioned about its relevance and ability to meet the needs of the industry at large. This article serves to highlight one primary element plaguing this system: the curriculum.

Evolution of hospitality curriculum in India

The curriculum of an institution is akin to the architectural outline of a structure. The roots of India's hospitality curriculum can be traced back to the original stewards of the domain: the Institutes of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition (IHMCT&AN). Most of these originally started as Food Craft Institutes, evolving into IHMs later. Nonetheless, the foundation of a broad curriculum structure was set within the purview of the IHM network. The curriculum became more formalised with the centralisation of the system in 1987 through the setup of the National Council of Hotel Management.

The IHMs originally served to build vocational skills for the hotel industry. Due to this focus, its curriculum model was architected around the four primary functional areas in a hotel namely, front-office, housekeeping (also called accommodations), food and beverage service and food and beverage production. Similar to a four-cylinder engine, the majority of time and energy spent by students over the three years were within these four functional lines with the remainder of courses serving as support elements.

In the early nineties, there was phenomenal growth of hospitality programs in select parts of India. Most programs that began during this period adopted the four-cylinder approach of the IHMs. I must admit that I was party to this effort during my tenure at Christ College, Bangalore where I served on the curriculum committee of Bangalore University. In all fairness, with the exception of the IHM option, there was little to use as a reference. The IHM system was tried and tested. Also, a majority of faculty in these newly formed institutions at that time were IHM alumni (including me) who did not have any other qualification such as tourism, business management, etc. We worked with what we had, knew and were exposed to. Now, after nearly 15 years, this four-cylinder curriculum model still prevails in a majority of hospitality institutions in India. The time has come to move towards a more multi-faceted, business-oriented approach to hospitality curriculum development in India.

The four-cylinder model in today's experience economy

Much has transpired since this original curriculum foundation was set and subsequently adapted across the country. Today's economy is global in reach and impact. The last I heard, nearly every global hotel brand either, already prevails in the Indian market, or is considering the option. India's hospitality industry has most certainly become experience-oriented. Innovation drives the engine of growth in this sector. Fast food chains, novel restaurant concepts, cafes, convention centers and shopping malls, etc. are humming Indian tunes. In the international scene, take for example ING Direct, a leading financial institution that is opening up ‘cafes’, wherein customers can sip coffee, browse the internet and get financial counseling. The skill set for working here is a combination of hospitality and financial management skills. The need for talent in the creation and management of experiences is critical to sustain this growth. We need to ask ourselves if the four-cylinder model can service this ever expanding hospitality universe not just in India, but abroad as well. Following are some critical issues that address the problems of this model.

Silo-based approach

The system is silo-based and does not address the interdependencies of hospitality-based operations effectively. Interdependencies prevail at both operational and managerial levels, although these are rarely nuanced in the curriculum. In many cases, hospitality institutions are compartmentalised based on the four silos and called departments with departmental heads leading each silo. If any proposal for curriculum development/change is brought forward, the most likely approach to address it will be to fit the new course change/addition under one of these departments even if there is no merit in the case. The silo based approach also reduces emphasis on wider issues impacting the industry such as quality management, revenue management, e-marketing, etc. Better schools around the world have already included these topics in the curriculum either as modules within existing courses or as individual courses in their own right.

The biggest problem with the silo approach is that it fails to identify the evolution of ‘hotel management education’ into ‘hospitality education’. As early as the mid 80's, the Indian hotel industry had begun to re-define itself as the hospitality industry. In fact, this transformation from hotel/restaurant to hospitality has been global in nature over the years. Several schools have renamed themselves by replacing ‘hotel’ and ‘restaurant’ with the term ‘hospitality’. Even Cornell University renamed its premier publication as the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly from the erstwhile Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly. Note that most other recent initiatives by Cornell University have the word ‘hospitality’, such as the Center for Hospitality Research and the Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship. However, the school at Cornell still has the word ‘hotel’, and one would think that this is because of its strong legacy and it is only a matter of time before this is replaced with ‘hospitality’. Leading international schools such as Purdue, Hong Kong Polytechnic, UNLV, Central Florida, and University of Strathclyde are all examples of this successful transformation. Even Express Hotelier and Caterer became ‘Express Hospitality’ a few years ago. For an understanding of what can be considered within hospitality, one should peruse the contents of this magazine over a period of time, and thereafter understand if the four-cylinder curriculum template is complementary or not.

It is important to note that the move from ‘hotel’ to ‘hospitality’ is not just in semantics. It lies in a gradually evolving compromise taking place at a global level that ‘hospitality’ is more holistic and encompassing in defining what is taught in these schools. A hotel is merely a type of establishment as opposed to hospitality, which is a phenomenon that prevails across diverse types of establishments such as hotels, restaurants, airlines, conventions, destinations and related services. The management of these types of services requires a unique set of skills that cannot be addressed by the four-cylinder approach of accommodations, front-office, F&B production and service.

(To be continued)

The writer is an assistant professor in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, USA

 


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