March 22, 2024 •

7 min reading

How to manage cultural diversity in hospitality - A quick guide

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Globalization, increasing freedom of movement between countries, and the growing interdependence of national economies have boosted cultural diversity in many industries. Nowhere is this paradigm shift more evident than in hospitality. How to manage cultural diversity effectively in hospitality is crucial in light of these changes.

The hospitality industry is a unique melting pot of cultural diversity, both in terms of the workforce and its customers, with people from all over the world coming together. But while diversity brings great opportunities and is something to celebrate, it also creates significant challenges.

Hospitality staff must be intimately aware of cultural differences when dealing with customers and colleagues from different backgrounds. Likewise, while a more culturally diverse workforce can bring fresh perspectives and create unique customer experiences, hotel managers and HR teams must look after their staff carefully to ensure efficient collaboration.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the many benefits of cultural diversity in hospitality businesses, discuss how diversity is perceived in the industry, and provide tips you can use to manage your multicultural customer base and workforce effectively.


What is cultural diversity in the hospitality industry?

Cultural diversity describes the existence of people from different ethnic or cultural groups that are present within a society or, in this case, an industry.

The nature of the hospitality industry, and the fact that international travel has become cheaper and more accessible, means many hospitality customers have different backgrounds, experiences, and cultural histories. The same can be said of the workforce.

To understand the scope of diversity in the industry, let’s consider the data from two countries that consistently track employment by ethnicity or nationality: the UK and the US. In the UK, the workforce in the hospitality industry is more culturally diverse than in any other, with 43% of workers being foreign nationals. In the US, it’s a similar picture, with immigrants accounting for 13% of the population as a whole but 31% of hospitality employees.

Culture is fundamental in making a person who they are and shaping how they interpret and react to situations. By recognizing and celebrating the differences in your customers and workforce, you can create a safe, culturally rich, and welcoming environment for everyone.

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What are the benefits of cultural diversity in hospitality?

Strength lies in differences, not in similarities. -

Stephen R. Covey

Organizations in the hospitality industry must manage cultural differences effectively and give everyone the space and support they need to flourish. If you can do that, the diversity of your guests and workforce can bring many benefits.

Different perspectives

Having guests and staff from different backgrounds can make everyone’s experience richer, more inclusive, and more interesting. It brings new ideas, diverse outlooks, and different ways of communicating - all of which help to create the kind of authentic experiences customers seek.

Better performance

Multiple studies show that diverse teams perform better. Ethnically diverse teams are 36% more likely to outperform the industry median on profitability. They are also 87% more likely to make better decisions as they ask more questions, process information differently, and have less blind belief in the status quo. Culturally diverse teams also solve problems more quickly and are more innovative.

Improved service

Culturally diverse teams can provide a higher level of service to guests, whether it’s by speaking different languages, adapting your services and products to meet specific needs, or understanding cultural sensitivities in a way homogeneous teams cannot. When someone from a different country or culture experiences that type of cross-cultural understanding, they’re more likely to recommend you to a friend and turn into repeat customers.

More adaptability

The pace of change in the hospitality industry means the more adaptable your teams are, the better. Having different cultures, perspectives, and insights in your teams, particularly higher up the chain, can make your business more resilient and help you adapt more quickly.

Enhanced company reputation

Organizations with teams from different cultures are seen as progressive and socially responsible, which can be attractive for guests and prospective new hires. That can make it easier to attract and retain good workers and help your brand resonate with socially conscious customers.

For example, Hilton Worldwide has received numerous international awards for its efforts to foster diversity and inclusion throughout the company, as well as to promote brand values and leverage the unique contributions and strengths of its team members, guests, suppliers, partners, and owners. It also has achieved a rating of 4.1 stars for DEI on GlassDoor.

“Culturally diverse organizations are more innovative and competitive and can promote the transfer of knowledge. They also become more attractive to minority customers, experience better talent recruitment and retention, and reduce labor costs. The development of partnerships with local communities and minority-owned vendors improves quality while cutting costs.”

Dr. Elena Canadas, a visiting professor at EHL, shares her research into organizational behavior.

What diversity challenges does the hospitality industry face?

Although the hospitality industry is one of the most diverse, there are still many challenges to overcome to ensure those with different ethnicities, nationalities, backgrounds, disabilities, and socio-economic classes are represented and understood.

According to a PwC report, the hospitality industry fares better than many when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but it still has a long way to go. Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) representation at the board level is just 6.4%, which compares unfavorably with a working-age BAME population of 12.5%. A lack of BAME representation in these key strategic roles threatens to hold organizations back.

According to the same report, there’s also a lack of data about cultural diversity in the hospitality industry, with nearly half of all firms currently not tracking relevant data, and many of those that do say it’s not complete. That’s a concern because you cannot change something you cannot see, and without the data, clear goals for Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives cannot be established.

Another concern is that the hospitality industry needs to do more to cater to culturally diverse customers. For example, in the UK, multi-ethnic travelers are more likely to book an international trip than white people, while in the US, Black travelers spend over $100 billion on travel every year. 70% of culturally diverse travelers book travel, accommodation, and experiences where they see themselves reflected. However, when it comes to hospitality marketing, these groups are underrepresented.


Managing cultural diversity in hospitality

Once you understand the benefits and challenges of increasing diversity in your hospital business, the next step is to be proactive about encouraging and managing it. Here are a few steps you can take to manage diversity effectively:

Build a diverse team

Educate your leadership to help them understand the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce and actively encourage them to recruit workers from cultures, backgrounds, and with language skills that reflect the needs of your guests. Better yet, take concrete steps to mitigate leadership bias in the hiring and recruitment process.

“Workplace bias can stymie diversity, recruiting, promotion, and retention efforts. Managers have to learn to de-bias their practices and procedures.”

Iris Bohnet, the Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program

Communicate effectively

Clear communication is key in hospitality, particularly when you have a diverse team. Use clear and concise language, check that team members fully understand what you are saying, and consider varying your communication methods to suit different team members.

Ask for feedback

Managing cultural diversity in hospitality can be challenging, so ask for feedback from guests and employees about what you’re getting right and the areas you can improve on.

Provide training and development opportunities

Managing diversity is something you have to work at to get right. Employees can benefit from training and education programs on bias awareness and cultural differences and sensitivities. Team members who are not native speakers of the dominant workplace language may also benefit from language training. Professional development opportunities must be equally available to all team members, regardless of their background.

Celebrate diversity

Actively acknowledging and celebrating different cultural holidays and traditions can help to create an inclusive culture where all your guests and employees feel welcomed and valued.


Leading the way for diversity

All stakeholders in the hospitality industry must respect, appreciate, and understand cultural diversity to effectively manage a diverse workforce and meet the expectations of international guests. This diversity-first mindset shouldn’t just be a consideration for HR and recruiting teams. It should permeate everything the organization does - from branding and marketing to the management of your teams on the ground - and become embedded in your culture.


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