Noteworthy: David Desta ’14 pinpoints the hospitality industry’s Achilles’ heel

By: Katelyn Godoy
Sheraton Hotel Ethiopia
​Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite many premier hotels in Ethiopia showcasing a world-class outward appearance, labor force issues remain the underbelly of the country’s hospitality industry.​ (Credit: A.Davey/Flickr)


David Desta knows a thing or two about what’s involved in running a high-end hotel: for the past several years, this 2014 Hotel School graduate has worked with Kuriftu Resorts, a premier chain of hotels in Ethiopia. While the accommodations are often revered for their opulence, writes Desta in an editorial entitled “Hospitality Industry’s Achilles Heel, Skilled Human Capital,” Ethiopian hotels and restaurants still struggle to recruit quality talent on a consistent basis. To solve this lack of skilled labor, Desta underscores the need for students to apply classroom theory into real-world practice.

Key takeaways from David Desta’s editorial:

Desta contextualizes the challenges facing the hospitality industry within Ethiopia and more specifically, the lack of skilled labor. Citing the hundreds of hours of work Cornell students are required to spend within the hospitality industry, Desta underscores the need for students to apply classroom theory into real-world practice.

“Experience is one of the key components that sets many candidates apart.”

Incorporating a work requirement into the curriculum ensures that a student’s education strikes a balance between theory and practice, says Desta. Service problems and customer requests are a dime a dozen within the hospitality industry; as a result, situational experiences during one’s studies remain the best “training program” to prepare for the real-world issues hoteliers and restaurateurs face on-the-job.

For the Ethiopian hospitality industry, everything starts and ends with education.

The limited number of hospitality graduates, or otherwise qualified candidates, makes for a bottleneck as employers search for new talent to hire. Lacking a clear source of human capital should be viewed as both a challenge and an opportunity   for hotel and restaurant owners in the Ethiopian labor market. Desta advocates for “the creation of an institution that provides education, training, and employment opportunities in the industry” that can help address this issue.

To reach and sustain high retention rates, local hotel and restaurant owners must incentivize employees.

Grappling with chronic issues such as “staff poaching” and “disgruntled employees leaving for better pay,” Ethiopian employers are in part responsible for the hospitality industry’s low retention rates. Desta cites a number of tried and true solutions to address this issue: “Non-monetary perks like recognition, additional training, and empowerment have proven to make a difference in employee morale and pride.”

Read the editorial in its entirety to learn more about what David Desta’s perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of Ethiopia’s hospitality industry.