Hotel Management education and the future of simulated learning spaces

Hotel simulated learning space

The hotel industry is embracing VR technology to train employees and engage with guests. Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School is leading the way with its VR hotel simulation program.

The hotel industry, always at the forefront of innovation, has embraced VR technology in various applications over the past few years. From destination marketing and promotion to virtual hotel tours, VR technology is influencing how hotels engage with guests and how employees are trained. Major hotel chains, like Hilton and Best Western, are adopting VR hotel scenarios for empathy, soft skills, and customer service training. The success of these programs and demand for soft skills among professionals has prompted a shift toward incorporating VR into hotel management training curricula; as demonstrated by the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) developing the first ever cutting-edge VR hotel simulation learning program in 2022. Now, with hotels, such as Marriott entering Metaverse, virtual hotel training only continues to grow in possibilities.

This innovative approach enhances students' soft skills and prepares them for real-world scenarios. With the success of VR training, the future of hospitality education is evolving towards more immersive and interactive learning experiences.

How VR simulated hotels can enhance students' skills

In the realm of hospitality management, the most effective professionals are often those ‘jacks of all trades’ who have a broad range of skills and experience across departments under their belt.

Soft skills, in particular, are essential to successful Hospitality Management, but they are also difficult to ‘study’ in any kind of traditional classroom setting. These skills encompass crucial aspects, such as leadership, conflict management, communication, professional demeanour, teamwork, and fostering positive customer relations. Despite their significance, students pursuing hotel management rarely get the opportunity to hone these skills in a controlled environment before entering the workforce.

The emergence of Virtual Reality (VR) and Extended Reality (XR) training addresses this gap by providing a platform for learners to engage in structured role-play. Students have the chance to practise skills, such as conflict resolution through virtual scenarios that are designed to teach these specific skill sets. This innovative approach to VR skills training is gaining traction globally, particularly for teaching soft skills to employees within the hotel industry.

Companies are increasingly adopting VR training programs delivered through headsets to onboard new staff and enhance the skills of existing employees. This transformative method covers key areas such as customer service, leadership, conflict management, safety procedures, and emergency response. Hilton, for instance, has embraced Oculus for staff training in empathy and soft skills, reporting an impressive 87% behavioural change among its employees following VR training.

Virtual reality hotels offering a unique training environment

Of course, on-the-job learning is always going to be an essential part of hospitality management training. However, one of the significant benefits of a VR simulated hotel training program compared to a typical internship or work placement is that students are able to learn in a controlled environment that offers real-time feedback and playback options, without any real-world risk to the business or its reputation.

As students navigate through diverse scenarios, they are able to replay, try again, or receive direct feedback on a scenario. Unlike on-the-job training, students can directly revisit moments where they found some issue challenging or a problem arose, in order to learn exactly how to improve next time.

This model encourages experiential learning, allowing students to apply their knowledge in unexpected situations, promoting critical thinking and judgement. Its application in the industry demonstrates how the use of this type of controlled learning simulation is already delivering results in areas such as conflict management.

Best Western Hotels, for example, witnessed a substantial 71% decrease in customer complaints after implementing VR hotel simulation scenario training for front-desk employees, accompanied by a notable 20% rise in customer satisfaction. These success stories demonstrate the transformative impact of VR simulations in cultivating essential skills among hospitality professionals, allowing students to practise conflict resolution in a unique, controlled environment.

Simulated VR and XR hotel management learning spaces

In 2022, BMIHMS launched the first ever Virtual Reality (VR) and Extended Reality (XR) training hotel adopted by a hotel management training school. This ground-breaking initiative uses VR technology to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world experiences.

The VR and XR training hotel, available to all bachelor-level students, offers a vital training ground for students to cultivate and refine their skills and practise different hotel management approaches in a controlled environment. Mirroring a real-world hotel with its different areas and roles, this innovative learning experience comprises tasks and activities expected of managers within the virtual hotel space, including serving digital guests, inspecting rooms, and making crucial decisions for different departments.

The program's design allows students to test their learning repeatedly across varied scenarios, allowing students to make mistakes, experiment with different approaches to guest interactions, and build confidence. Whether accessed through goggles for a VR experience or a desktop for an XR experience, the training platform accommodates both on-campus and online students.

The features of the BMIHMS virtual simulated hotel

Available in VR or XR: The XR format provides a 3D, immersive virtual training hotel accessible from a desktop. The VR format offers the same immersive experience but requires a headset for a fully immersive encounter.

3D Immersive Hotel Experience:

  • Users navigate a three-dimensional VR and XR hotel digital environment, engaging with objects, surfaces, and items.
  • Learners interact with virtual staff and guests, practicing various management styles, customer service approaches, and soft skills.
  • Varied scenarios present unexpected role-playing situations, prompting learners to respond with problem-solving and judgement.

360 Tour (XR Format):

  • A Google Maps-style navigable map of the hotel space.
  • Loaded with links and tags to videos, learning resources, and information.
  • Interactive quizzes for progress tracking, accompanied by instructional videos for guided tours.

VR Headset Experience:

  • Fully immersive virtual training hotel experience using a VR headset.
  • Learners use their bodies to interact with objects, characters, data points, and items in the digital space.

These cutting-edge VR and XR training environments provide structured role-play scenarios, offering real-time feedback as students navigate through different situations. In this immersive setting, learners engage in experiential learning, allowing them to apply their knowledge in various and unexpected scenarios while honing critical thinking and judgement.

Virtual reality hotels and the future of hotel training

The convergence of VR technology and hotel management education marks a paradigm shift in how future leaders are trained. As the industry grapples with challenges and embraces opportunities including new virtual developments like Metaverse and a growing demand for remote skills training, the role of VR in shaping the next generation of hospitality professionals cannot be overstated.

In this era of rapid technological advancement, the hotel industry, along with educational institutions like BMIHMS, is headed towards a new era where virtual and augmented realities will seamlessly integrate with traditional classroom and on-the-job learning, opening doors to new opportunities for students and professionals alike.

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