Benoit-Etienne Domenget, CEO, Sommet Education

Graduating from HEC business school in Paris, Benoît-Etienne Domenget started his career with Accor Group, managing different hotel properties before joining the corporate office as Senior Vice – President Development to head the group’s strategic development in Europe, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) regions. In January 2017, Benoît-Etienne was appointed CEO of the newly-formed Sommet Education, encompassing the prestigious Swiss hospitality management schools of Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education with branch campuses in Switzerland, Spain, UK, US, China and Jordan. The group was founded following the institutions’ acquisition by French investment company Eurazeo.

 

Hospitality education is a fast-evolving world, and hospitality schools having to keep pace with both the industry and education trends and novelties, are required to work with the industry experts in defining the most efficient way to teach the relevant skills to students. Indeed, digitalization is one of the most significant trends in hospitality education, and is also one of the most significant trends in the hospitality industry. This has been foreseen as a shift shaping the world, but now it has become a necessity with the Covid crisis being a catalyst for digital transformation in the hospitality world. However, we must not forget that hospitality is all about customer’s experience and that digitalization must help to enhance this experience. For our students to fully understands the stakes of digitalization, they need to be aware of the world of possibilities that it offers, but also be fully conscious of the limits.

Digitalization requires to be handled carefully, to protect both the service provider and the customer, and for this, experts in the domains have to educate hospitality students in using digital tools in a way it increases a performance or magnify a service. To be fully understood, theoretical courses on the digitalization topics are certainly essential, but it is also crucial to integrate digitalization in the knowledge delivery itself, in a way it become natural to evolve in a digitalized environment. A great example of this is the way Covid crisis challenged all education providers to continue delivering knowledge. In our very case, Sommet Education institutions were already undertaking the turning point of digitalization and our experts were aware of the best tools to implement for distant education and then ready to execute the necessary transformations to our learning system. We managed to do so as a company in a very limited time while maintaining the level of excellence in our student learning experience and outcomes. We maintained student personalized support, mentoring, cohort interactions and community sense of belonging, while at the same time creating innovative, contextualized, and enriched academic content.  We put in place a unique online solution called “Connect” where students were able to continue their studies remotely through the use of digital textbooks accessible 24/7, videoconferences and online assessments. While the teaching methods are different online to those on campus, we managed to create a whole system, using different tools, for them both to provide identical learning outcomes. This flexible solution, adapting to the different time zones where our students were, is also highly personalized in terms of the student’s learning journey. Our students are never left alone in their online learning process.

They are learning in small classes, have regular one-to-one meetings with their teachers, get to know both other online and on-campus students through solutions put in place by our teams on campus. Today, we have more than 70 programs that are adapted to online education. Now we offer also blended programs that are a mix of both physical and digital teaching. Digitalization stakes are also integrated in our programs through the discovery of the newest inventions in Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, software, etc. With the return to face to face classes and recovery of the hospitality and tourism industry, digital tools implemented remain relevant to maintain, in order to enhance our students experience, bringing flexibility and enlarging the range of teaching possibilities. This flexibility and sense of personalization in education is essential in such a demanding industry and to impart knowledge in the most efficient way for students to process the learning outcomes.

Another skill that is essential for future hospitality professionals to have is the openness to the world and the understanding of the plurality of different cultures of the global world they evolve in. This soft skill can be gained by being immersed in a multicultural climate, and by moving around the globe, being confronted to different environments, challenging one’s agility and adaptability. The number of individuals studying a university program outside of their home country has been steadily rising for over the last 20 years. In 2000 it was around 2 million students, at the last count 5 years ago in 2017, UNESCO figures showed over 5 million students studying abroad. Opting for an international education has a number of strong draws, not least for hospitality students.

Students can start their education in a certain country, can transfer or spend semesters abroad acquiring the global vision and experience that will enable them to embrace global hospitality careers. This is the richness of our beautiful industry and students should always be encouraged to move and discover. This is our responsibility to create these opportunities for our students by working on a worldwide level. We aim to open a world of possibilities to our students, in order for them to be able to study where they wish in the world and gain international experience and knowledge. For this reason, we are expanding our network of schools, both in terms of integrating renowned institutions to our portfolio, but also in developing our well-known brands, opening campuses in new locations, and developing synergies between our institutions, thus creating a stronger global network. We are convinced that together, we can go higher and reach exceptional ends. The personalization of one’s education pathway is also largely driven by the possibility offered for specialization. Indeed, for hospitality leaders, as well as other industry leaders, being an expert in a field by specializing is a great chance to succeed as a professional. For this, students should be offered the possibility of following personalized pathways, creating their very own knowledge journey, exploring new concepts and being taken through the full scope of a certain branch.

Digitalization and travels hospitality education moving forward flexibility and personalization, education providers have to take the step further undertaking the necessary evolutions to provide students with the necessary tools and inspiring them to become the professionals of tomorrow. Sharing passion with students and providing them with the correct tools to succeed in shaping the hospitality of tomorrow is our role as premium hospitality education providers. Tailor-made experience is a huge opportunity for schools and students and should be worked around to take students to the next level of expertise and passion for the hospitality industry.

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