Specialise in: hospitality
As a sector that so keenly suffered from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021, tourism is now enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.
Before restrictions to mobility were in place, global travel and tourism generated around US$9.6 trillion or 10.3% of global GDP in 2019, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). During the pandemic the sector saw around 50% of its value wiped out in a matter of months. In 2020 the sector generated US$4.7 trillion and only US$5.8 trillion in 2021.
Fortunately for the many people all over the world who have careers in tourism, the WTTC expects the sector value to rebound and contribute up to US$8.5 trillion in 2022.
Challenging the norm
Even before Covid-19 came along, hotels were battling challenges to long-established tourism norms, with the rise of Airbnb and self-curated trips. But from a finance perspective this only makes the sector more interesting. Hotels need people who can help drive growth and product innovation.
‘As well as being a people-oriented industry, hospitality is creative,’ says Salman Sharif FCCA, regional director of finance at Rixos Hotels in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region. ‘You’re creating a product – be that food, drink, entertainment or an experience – and there’s always scope to dream up new ways of making it more enjoyable for your customers. Anything you do, you need to factor the human experience into it.’
Finance careers in hotels will look like many other private sectors. At the top of the hierarchy will be a CFO, under which are finance directors, finance and purchasing managers, financial and cost controllers, accounts payable and receivable, payroll and general ledger/bookkeeping.
What sets the sector apart is that many hotels are a part of large, international groups. So, you could start working within the finance department of a single hotel, before moving up to a regional team that focuses more on strategy, while also providing a national-level finance HQ function. This will then feed into the finance department at global HQ and the group CFO’s office.
Rixos Hotels, for example, is a luxury brand within the France-based Accor group and is present across Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Sharif’s responsibilities as the finance lead for Rixos Hotels in the GCC region are wide-ranging: investor relations; preparing business plans; pre-opening budgeting and planning; group reporting and operational analysis for all properties in the GCC region; overseeing the procurement chain and supplier negotiations; and supervising overall accounting, finance and tax function of all hotels under his remit.
Getting in and getting on
Strong technical accounting skills and experience will be minimum requirements, especially when applying to or hoping to achieve more senior roles, such as Sharif’s. Prior to joining Rixos Hotels, his background was built in the retail and F&B (food and beverage) sectors with large groups, which, while not the same as hospitality in terms of operations and processes, do share certain similarities.
‘My experience and technical knowledge really helped me to understand quickly the key matrix of the hospitality industry,’ he says. ‘If you are good technically, eager to learn new skills and able to adopt change, the transition into this sector will be smooth and quick.’
Key skills to consider involve thinking beyond accounting to taking a broader business view, becoming more of a partner to other divisions and departments. ‘Our role is to provide real-time support and analysis, to be a trusted adviser and to add value that will assist in decision-making,’ Sharif says.
Given the recent context of sharp shocks and survival mode for the hotels sector, it helps to be forward thinking, open to new ideas and a quick decision maker, as well as being capable of adapting quickly and comfortably to change.
Finance careers in hotels can take you around the world and into the C-suite – and not just as a CFO. As you become more closely involved in senior management and business strategy, the more specialist your experience and knowledge will be in the sector. Senior finance people who can find value and help the company to grow and meet its objectives will be highly valued, opening up career paths. There’s no reason why running groups or clusters, or becoming a specialist consultant, should not be on your career radar.