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Exclusive | Dominic CostaBir, Director HTI (Hospitality Training Institute) and HTI International FZE (UAE) speaks on the industry’s prime need to focus on high quality guest experience

Tell us about your journey. How did it all start?
Post my Hotel Management program from IHM Mumbai I invested my entire savings of Rs.350 in business. I printed visiting cards, my money was over and I was in the business of party catering. Later I added institutional catering services. In 2002 I took a leap of faith and Hospitality Training Institute (HTI) was born. Today HTI is the preferred outsourced training partner to Ginger Hotels (a TATA Enterprise); Azure Hospitality; Tata Motors; Oberoi Airport Services; Atmosphere Hotels, Maldives and GCC, Saudi Arabia. We have set up HTI International FZE in UAE, and plans are afoot to enter other GCC countries, SE Asia and South Africa. 

What were some of the challenges and triumphs encountered in achieving a breakthrough in the UAE?
For training the UAE market is ripe. There was a time when everyone's business was thriving. But in recent years the competition has heated up. Customer retention and loyalty is paramount and that can only be achieved through a dedicated and motivated workforce. We motivate, train and assist companies to define and deliver wow service. 

What do you think it takes to succeed in the hospitality/ service industry?
A well-rounded personality - confidence, honesty, hard work, smart work (needed but lacking), communication skills and the willingness to serve (humility). 

As the only 'Outsourced Training Company' for the hospitality & travel sector, share with us some of the changes you have seen in the Talent Acquisition and Development space since you started.
Finance (unfortunately) was and is the driver. Money motivates - is the proverbial lie that's repeated so often it threatens to become a truth. But the truth is talent can't be acquired, developed or retained using only monetary compensation or reward - at least not for long. Motivation must come from within, when you engage the whole person - body, mind, heart and soul. Give them meaningful work, allow them to use their minds/ ideas, value their contribution and appreciate them as humans. 

At HTI we start off our associates at reasonably low salaries. We motivate them and upgrade them through training. We loop them into our 'Topsy Turvy Management' structuring; in which different team mates at pre-determined situations lead us. And then accordingly their salaries are rationalised.
As the Director I hardly have any powers and the same situation prevails for the CEOs, CTO, CFO and COOs. Youngsters are given authority and responsibility and are held accountable for decisions and actions. We demonstrate how their behaviour impacts team work and performance. And when the company performs well, obviously everyone gets a piece of the pie. 

The experiment is successful sustainable. My team is self-driven and the enthusiasm and energy just sweeps you away! 

Share with us some trends, hospitality leaders should take note of and prepare for.
Educated urban youth aren’t keen on the industry. Leaders are desperately trying to woo them. But I'd go to village kids and impart skill training. It's win-win; hospitality gets a dedicated task force. The youth get a career and the nation gets to spread wealth and reduce unemployment. 

What are some of the things you would like to see changed in the hospitality industry?
A focus on guest experience which is beyond product or service - it's how we make you feel before, during and after a meal or stay. It's a long lasting feeling that you can't explain… it's like love. 

Do you think India is ready for the Gig economy?  Since travel and hospitality has high and low demand for labour even within 24 hours not just week, or month or year, is India ready to pay for gigs - short term work - rather than salaries?
As a culture, Indians, in general, will not be comfortable with temporary assignments. We like permanent (read: job security) employment even at low rates. Besides wages and salaries are low in most of Asia as compared to America, Europe, Australia... so Gig economy, at this stage, doesn't really have much scope from employee or employer’s perspective. 

Having said as much, HTI is experimenting with the same. We have Local Language Trainers (LLTs) that we select, train and are on our ERP (cloud based backend/ Admin system). As and when we require their services we deploy them. Naturally they are paid per session that they conduct.