Language non-sequiturs

Multi-lingual is the most sought after ability in the hotel industry. A hotel, particularly in gateway cities like New York, is often more multi-lingual than the delegate floor of the United Nations. But what about the employees and even owners? To be sure, many speak little if any English and hail from places as diverse as Uzbekistan and Uruguay. Nevertheless, having manuals in dozens of languages to cater to the linguistically challenged is clearly not a feasible option for hoteliers. Some attempt to offer English (and Spanish) classes but most get by with employees learning a smattering of English – enough to literally get the job done. That is true particularly in housekeeping (an unsurprising aside is that almost all these employees’ offsprings speak fluent English within years of their arrival in the US). Yet, the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s new Chairman, Joe Kane announced during his inaugural speech that ” earlier this year we proudly unveiled a new Trilingual Hospitality Handbook. This handbook takes the most commonly used industry terms and converts them from English to Spanish to Gujarati, the language spoken by many Asians (sic) American hoteliers and was the first of its kind in the business”.

While not entirely puzzling since the overwhelming majority of hoteliers hoteliers who franchise the big names are “Asian” (read Gujarati), it does nothing for either the industry or the Gujaratis other than pandering to their isolationist mentality. Unlike line employees who speak little English in hotels in big cities, these Gujaratis do far more than repetitive housekeeping jobs. They interact with city, state and federal agencies besides the franchisor and, most importantly, customers. It is incumbent on them to learn English (and in some instances Spanish) fast. Rather than provide them with a manual of terms converted to Gujarati, the AH&LA would do better by offering and even underwriting English speaking and writing classes. That would certainly not take away from their cultural and linguistic heritage, a genuine if overblown fear among them, and add to their bottom line – something they are easily likely to relate to.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.