The stubborn importance of English in Asia’s MICE industry

By David Topolewski on 16/01/2017

Despite a slowing global economy, business travel looks set to continue its forward march over the next few years. According to a new study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), global spending on business travel is set to hit USD1.3 trillion by the end of 2016, and reach USD1.6 trillion by 2020, with China becoming the fifth fastest-growing major market in the next five years. India is also emerging as a key destination, and source market, for business travellers, with USD36.1 billion worth of business travel expected by the end of 2017.

This growth is good news for hoteliers around the world; particularly in Asia where booming economies means the region is a top destination for business travellers. The Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions (MICE) segment is incredibly important to the hospitality industry for many reasons. Events such as corporate retreats, conferences and meetings are extremely lucrative, as not only do hotels rent our their events space, but also sell rooms and F&B. Individual travellers tend to stay in more premium rooms, and a company account makes them more likely to spend more per trip.

Despite the growth in travel from non-English speaking nations, however, many hotels have not trained their staff to communicate properly with their corporate guests in the lingua franca of the business world: English. There are only 480 million native English speakers in the world, yet there are two billion English speakers, and the English language is the de facto language of the Internet, international business and international travel.

There are good reasons for this, especially when it comes to business. There are 22 official languages in India (plus 122 major languages and 1,599 other languages), Indonesia has over 300 different native languages, the Philippines over 170. Given this multitude of languages and dialects, it is only natural that one language will emerge as the de facto means of communication, and that is English.

For hotels and MICE venues, communication is key to securing repeat guests and customers – you cannot separate language from service. When a delegate who has just got off a 12-hour flight asks for directions or information on the venue, they have less patience for service staff that are unable to provide them with the information they need in a timely and accurate manner. For leisure travellers, poor communication – or a "lost-in-translation" moment – may result in a slight hiccup to their travel plans, or even a humorous outcome. For corporate travellers, this could mean arriving late to that vital meeting, an event ruined or simply increased stress during an already hectic schedule.

Many Asian nations struggle when it comes to English language proficiency. India slipped two places in the recent EF Education First report, and China’s English language proficiency remains in the "intermediate to basic level". Hotels and conference centres are often at the forefront of a country’s tourism industry, and hotel employees are usually the first people visitors will speak to or hear from. Yet hotels too often rely on ineffective, expensive classroom-based learning when training their staff in the English language (if they train them at all). This is both costly – books, tutors etc – and takes considerable time and space causing disruption to work schedules.

Hoteliers and those in the MICE industry need to wake up to the power of mobile if they want to fully benefit from the business travel boom. Asia’s smartphone penetration continues to increase, with the strongest growth among younger Asians who make up many hotels’ and conference centres’ workforce, therefore mobile learning should be the natural choice to improve English language proficiency.

Lessons that are accessed via a smartphone or tablet can take place anytime, anywhere. Progress can be tracked by training managers, and advanced tone and speech recognition software allow constant feedback for users – vital for a "tone heavy" language such as English.

Given the sheer number of hotels, conference centres and events spaces available nowadays in Asia, companies need to differentiate themselves through superior service if they are to really profit from the pending growth in business travel. Expecting corporate accounts to return year-after-year despite poor service and a lack of adequate language skills is not a sustainable strategy, no matter how many times staff can say ‘sorry’ in English.

David Topolewski is Chief Executive Officer of Qooco, which provides mobile language learning and vocational training solutions for employees in the hospitality and service industries. Through advanced neurolinguistic techniques and pedagogies and powerful speech recognition technology, Qooco allows associates to learn languages and service skills anywhere, anytime, more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before - improving customer service and increasing revenues. Qooco's holistic solution promotes greater workforce engagement, allows accurate performance measurement and real-time feedback. Qooco's suite of products includes Qooco Voice, Qooco Upsell, Qooco Link, Qooco Core and Qooco Pro. For more information, visit:


Article Code: 2659

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