2022 June-July Analysis

AmCham and brand hotels team up to reinvigorate Georgia’s hospitality workforce

Like to travel? Want to spend your days surrounded by warm and welcoming people? Hoping to move up the management ladder in only a few years? Then hospitality is the industry for you, say the GMs of Georgia’s international brand hotels as they look to bring in new blood amid sectoral changes.

“Never a boring moment.” That’s how General Manager of the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace Iva Trifonov describes a career in the hospitality industry. “There’s so much opportunity for growth. You can travel to different countries, meet new people, work in a luxury environment, and even become a GM at the age of 30.”

It’s this message of opportunity and an exciting new career path that three of Georgia’s international brand hotel partners, GMT Group (Marriott Hotels), Silk Road Hospitality (Radisson Hotels), and the Sheraton Grand Metechi Palace, are hoping to impart on prospective applicants as they gear up to begin their new hospitality skills training program.

The training program, which is supported by the USAID Economic Security Program and implemented in partnership with AmCham, is part of a wider project that aims to revitalize the hospitality industry’s workforce and introduce international standards of service at a crucial time as the sector emerges from the pandemic and aims to revamp its existing models.

New opportunities for Georgia’s tourism industry

Prior to the pandemic, tourism represented one of the main drivers of the economy as Georgia continued to garner a reputation as “a good value for money” destination. However, as Covid-19 brought the tourism industry to a screeching halt, its gradual reopening also witnessed a change in the demographics of those visiting the country.

Data collected by the Georgian National Tourism Administration shows that in 2021, tourism numbers rebounded from historically less represented origin markets, like the Middle East, Ukraine, and Israel, at a much swifter rate than visitor numbers from those in neighboring countries. Notably, two of those countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel, represent the highest revenue per visit (RPV) markets for Georgian tourism.

This growing diversification of origin destinations has also been accompanied by a shift in spending habits, according to a report compiled by TBC Capital in December. In the first ten months of 2021, the average revenue per visit increased 69%. This figure, compared to annual growth rates of approximately 3% in the years leading up to the pandemic, indicates that tourists are, on average, spending more money per trip – a shift away from the country’s previous high-volume, low-value model of tourism.

And as the sector attempts to capitalize on these new origin markets and recalibrate into a more sustainable, low-volume, high-value model, a greater emphasis is being placed on integrating internationally recognized levels of service – a feat that has become all the more challenging in the face of major sectoral staff shortages.

The pandemic’s multiple closures and prolonged restrictions led to layoffs and left many in the industry unsure of its reliability as a career path. “The last couple of years have been unprecedented for the hospitality industry,” says AmCham Tourism Committee Head and Marriott General Manager Cameron McNellie. “We had to make some tough decisions, and it’s been difficult to bring back the existing workforce. Now, however, we are facing two years of pent-up travel demand that we’ve got to be ready for. We need to show people how cool it is to work in this industry, and we need to make them trust us again.”

Skills development program aims to impact wider hospitality industry

With this objective in mind, the hospitality skills training program, which is set to welcome its first cohort this month, will invite up to 60 trainees to commence a five-month internship and get a glimpse of what it’s like to work at an internationally branded hotel. Throughout the internship, participants will circulate through various departments, receiving more than 800 hours of on-the-job instruction from internationally certified trainers, with a focus on topics like hospitality basics, housekeeping, food and beverage service, human resources, health and safety, and sales and PR.

CEO of Silk Hospitality Jordi Kuijt says that he hopes this program will enhance the visibility of the sector as a desirable career path and dispel the common misconception that the only opportunities in hospitality revolve around the most visible jobs, like reception and housekeeping. “Within hospitality, there is really a wide variety of jobs available in service, but also in the technical side – IT, accounting, sales, and marketing.”

Representatives of partner hotels participate in a panel discussion on challenges and opportunities for the hospitality sector at the project’s opening event

And in addition to raising awareness of the various avenues available for those wishing to embark on a career path within the hospitality industry, the program’s partners also expect the effects of this program to go far beyond the walls of their own hotels, raising the quality of service within the wider sector.

As part of the project’s activities, a job fair will be held at the end of the training program, where up to 20 SME hotels from throughout Georgia’s regions will be able to recruit the internationally trained staff. It will also welcome local colleges and TVETs to attend some of the training and include online workshops led by the project’s hotel partners, offering small and medium-sized HoReCa enterprises training on best international practices in hospitality.

“This project should spill over to the smaller private hotels and enhance experiences across all points of contact,” says the Sheraton’s Trifonov. “This will help Georgia to move from ‘great value for money’ to a ‘great tourist experience’ destination, allowing everyone to get a better return on investment. Tourism will remain the focus of the Georgian economy, and the need for qualified personnel, private entrepreneurship, and supporting services is only going to continue to grow.”

This article was prepared with the support of the USAID Economic Security Program.

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