Reflections on the Nature of Skills in the Experience Economy: Challenging Traditional Skills Models in Hospitality

Article excerpt

This article addresses the nature of skills in international hospitality. Frequently characterised as 'low skills', it is increasingly recognised that skills bundling in services such as hospitality cannot be solely seen in terms of the technical attributes of work. Emotional and aesthetic dimensions have been added to the services skills bundle. The added dimension of Pine and Gilmore's 'experience economy' suggest a further component within this bundle, namely that of experience skills. This article explores the role of experiential factors in helping to equip those entering work in the international hospitality industry. The learning demands of the sector for those brought up in a western, developed world environment are relatively small, primarily reflecting the strongly Americanised operating culture of hospitality. In addition, those working in hospitality in most developed countries have experience of the sector as both consumers and employees. By contrast, employees in international hospitality in less developed countries do not have similar benefits of experience, either though general acculturation or as consumers of hospitality services. This divergent experience profile has significant implications for the skills demands of hospitality work and leads to the proposition that experience is an important factor in determining the skills demands of hospitality work. This, in turn, leads to this article's proposal that Experiential Intelligence (ExQ) is an indicator of this difference in terms of workplace skills.

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Western, developed societies, according to Pine and Gilmore (1999), have evolved through industrial, service and knowledge economies to what they describe as an environment where premium is placed upon consumer experience, whether through brand label clothes, a new automobile, in a Disney resort or on a Caribbean cruise liner:

   Experiences are a fourth economic offering, as
   distinct from services as services are from goods,
   but one that until now has gone largely unrecognised.
   They've always been around, but consumers,
   businesses and economists lumped them
   into the service sector with such uneventful activities
   as dry cleaning, auto repair, telephone
   access or banking. When a person buys a service,
   he purchases a set of intangible activities carried
   out on his behalf. But when he buys an experience,
   he pays to spend time enjoying a series of
   memorable events that a company stages--as in
   a theatrical play--to engage him in a personal
   way (Pine & Gilmore, 1990, p. 2).

The experience economy, which is also well described by Bryman (2004), is one where consumers are seeking an integrated bundling of products and services in a way that generates responses across a range of their intellectual, emotional and aesthetic senses. Pine and Gilmore see the experience economy primarily in terms of the impact that it has on consumer behaviour and marketing, although they do acknowledge that what they call the 'dramatis personae' (p. 160) are very important to the delivery of experiences and that 'the first requirement for workers in a transformation (experience) business is that they truly care' (p. 182). Bryman goes a step further and considers the nature of work and service delivery in his Disneyfied environment and identifies features of the skills that are required to meet the needs of experience consumers. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the skills sought within the experience economy, into which hospitality clearly falls, differ significantly from those demanded by more traditional industrial environments. This article seeks to explore aspects of skills within the context of the experience economy, interpreted in a way that is developed and extended from that introduced by Pine and Gilmore. This exploration leads to the proposal of the concept of Experiential Intelligence (ExQ) as a factor in the effective delivery of service within hospitality and discussion of how cultural and economic context impacts on the extent to which appropriate ExQ-related skills are found within those working in the sector. …