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The Role of Cultural Diversity and Heritage in Hospitality

In preparation for Heritage Day – South Africa’s celebration of cultural diversity and heritage, occurring on Sunday, September 24 – Etresia Booysen, a senior lecturer at The IIE School of Hospitality & Service Management (IIEHSM), emphasizes that hospitality and businesses play a pivotal role in establishing inclusive environments for Heritage Day, encompassing education, celebration, and active engagement with diverse communities.

“Embracing cultural diversity and promoting inclusivity enables businesses to contribute to the spirit of Heritage Day, fostering a welcoming atmosphere for all guests, irrespective of their background,” she asserts.

Booysen outlines seven key principles that should be embraced:

  1. Promoting Cultural Awareness: Hospitality businesses should educate their staff about the diverse cultures and heritages celebrated on Heritage Day, fostering better understanding of different traditions, foods, and customs, which, in turn, enables employees to provide superior service to guests from various backgrounds.
  2. Cultural Competency Training: Providing cultural competency training for employees aids in understanding and respecting guests’ customs and traditions, fostering a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
  3. Collaboration with Local Communities: Businesses can collaborate with local cultural organizations and community groups to organize Heritage Day celebrations, which not only promotes inclusivity but also strengthens ties with the local community.
  4. Inclusive Employment Practices: Consideration of a diverse staff mirrors the multiculturalism of clientele, contributing to guest comfort and appreciation.
  5. Celebration of Employee Heritages: Encourage employees to share their own cultural heritages and traditions through events, decorations, or special activities, creating a sense of inclusion among the staff.
  6. Customer Feedback and Engagement: Actively seek feedback from guests to better celebrate Heritage Day and create a more inclusive environment, engaging with customers to comprehend their needs and preferences.
  7. Community Outreach: Engage in community events related to Heritage Day and support local initiatives promoting cultural diversity and inclusivity.

Regarding dealing with guests from diverse backgrounds, Booysen adds, “The hospitality industry must consider several key factors when dealing with guests from diverse backgrounds to provide a welcoming and inclusive experience.”

These key factors encompass:

  • Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity: Staff training in cultural awareness and sensitivity, including knowledge of customs, traditions, and norms, is crucial for engaging with guests from different backgrounds.
  • Language Support: Employing multilingual staff or offering translation services can enhance communication with guests who may not speak the local language fluently, and multilingual signage and written materials can be helpful.
  • Respect for Dietary Preferences: Being prepared to accommodate various dietary preferences and restrictions, like vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher, or food allergies, and providing clear menu labeling and detailed ingredient information.
  • Religious Practice Consideration: Ensuring provisions like prayer rooms, adherence to dietary restrictions during religious holidays, or special arrangements for guests observing fasting periods.
  • Accessibility: Facility accessibility for people with disabilities, including ramps, elevators, accessible restrooms, and accommodations for mobility, hearing, or vision impairments.
  • Inclusive Policies: Implementation of policies promoting inclusivity and prohibiting discrimination based on factors like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, along with consistent staff training for policy enforcement.
  • Cultural Celebrations: Recognition and celebration of cultural holidays and events important to various guest groups through decorations, special menus, or cultural activities.
  • Respect for Privacy: Respecting the privacy and personal space of guests from diverse cultural backgrounds, taking into account specific preferences regarding housekeeping, room service, or staff interactions.
  • Customized Services: Flexibility in offering customized services based on individual guest preferences, accommodating specific requests related to room setup, bedding, or amenities.
  • Training and Education: Continual education and training of staff in cultural diversity and sensitivity, encouraging open dialogue and learning to foster a more inclusive environment.
  • Feedback and Improvement: Actively seeking feedback from guests to understand their needs and preferences and using this feedback for improvements to enhance the guest experience for diverse groups.

By considering these factors and adopting inclusive practices, the hospitality industry can cultivate a more welcoming and respectful environment for guests from diverse backgrounds, ultimately enhancing the guest experience and establishing a strong and positive reputation, resulting in word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business.

Etresia Booysen is a Senior Lecturer at The IIE School of Hospitality & Service Management’s Cape Town campus.

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