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