IT IS important that staff members in the hospitality and tourism industry are fully trained in language and communication skills. They must be comfortable with the language they use to interact with customers. In a property such as hotel or resort, there are many departments such as housekeeping, food and beverages and front office.
The customers must feel that their questions are both understood and answered to their satisfaction because they are not only paying for accommodation or food only but also for service. Untrained hospitality workers in East Africa tend to be soft spoken and shy when talking to foreigners in a foreign language.
Customers usually interpret this as rudeness and incompetence. Guests should not be struggling to communicate what they want or finding it hard to hear or comprehend what is being communicated to them.
English is the international commercial language of choice in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and to a certain degree in Tanzania except Burundi that uses French. Of course, we have Swahili as regional language commonly understood by all five member states, more so in Kenya and Tanzania. We also have tribal or vernacular languages, as commonly known. These are the various language backgrounds the industry staff brings to the work place.
The language choice and proficiency provide confidence to the staff member bearing a lot of impact on guest satisfaction. If you are not able to relate to your customer, to understand their needs, and to have a mutual dialogue, your business is dead. As East Africa raises standards of service through regional unification and harmonisation of the sector, none of these backgrounds should stand in the way of good service.
Globalisation has made English a dominant ingredient for communication. Fortunately, English has been a medium for education in most of East Africa. However, East Africa’s new source markets of Asia and South America may not be English speaking. Therefore, hotel and tourism institutions must include basic language courses in their curriculum. In addition to English, other languages taught should include Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, German and Italian.
There are also alternative ways of removing language barriers. Companies must include the practice of hiring bilingual staff whenever possible. One or two bilingual speakers in each hotel department are recommended. Their names must be listed and posted in each department for a quick reference for anyone who might need interpretation assistance. In major cities and towns throughout East Africa, there are businesses that offer translation services at minimal cost.
A hotel or restaurant must know where these types of services are at all times. Some of these services offer direct line phone services where assistance can be provided instantly. This information must be included in hotel directories placed in guest rooms or displayed on television sets. It is also a good idea for the establishment to be connected with the various tourism agencies that maintain translation services on site.
Language must be enhanced with communication skills that involve verbal and non-verbal expressions. Role playing is effectively used worldwide as part of a continuous training tool. This is where employees are presented with scenarios of real life situations that can occur on the job and observe how they handle and resolve them. For example, dealing with an infuriated customer who may be upset about the room condition, bad food, overcharge or security.
It may also teach how an employee deals with a tough or drunken customer. During the exercise, staff are coached, criticised and complimented with a view to improving their demeanour, responses and professional use of verbal and body language in those circumstances.
Teaching effective language use and communication skills via video link can be effective as well. Technological advances have brought so many other teaching and coaching tools to the industry including social media.
Management can also boost this experience by providing a positive working environment where employees are motivated enough to practise their learned language and communication techniques.
Help your staff to communicate effectively and you will see great returns.
The writer is an experienced hotelier and tourism professional