President's Message

Cultural Competence

In the September edition of Communique, I wrote about diversity management and briefly focussed on cultural diversity and cultural intelligence. I raised the question of how we are developing our students’ intercultural intelligence within our programmes. This month I would like to explore that topic further and focus on cultural competence and its importance within hospitality and tourism management education.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with different cultures and belief systems. The importance of cultural competence or intercultural competence has grown in importance with globalisation as people and countries around the world become more interconnected. Higher education institutions have thus recognised the importance of developing graduates who are culturally competent and can enter the workforce with global perspectives or as ‘global citizens’. Internationalisation within educational institutions and their curricula is recognised as one way to develop cultural competence in students and prepare them for a globalised world.

The development of cultural competence requires students to move through three distinct stages. In the first stage, students must acquire the knowledge and understanding of different countries and cultures. Secondly, students must then develop both an appreciation of cultural differences and intercultural sensibility, reflected in their beliefs, values and attitudes towards different cultures. Finally, students need to develop their skills to be able to leverage this knowledge and understanding in order to work effectively across different cultures. Understanding how to ensure that students move through all three stages as they progress towards graduation is therefore important within higher education.

A number of years ago, a colleague and I undertook an investigation of the internationalisation of hospitality management degrees within the UK in an effort to identify how they were developing cultural competence within their student populations. Through this research we developed a framework of internationalisation to help those who managed hospitality degrees to assess their curriculum. This framework is a matrix based upon elements of the curricula which occur ‘at home’ and therefore do not require students to leave the campus, and those that occur ‘abroad’ and require students to visit different countries and cultures outside of their home country. The matrix is also divided according to students and academic members.

‘Internationalisation at home’ for example, could entail the use of international case studies to help students to develop their knowledge of different country cultures and practices while on campus. However, the extent to which these case studies lead to the development of the appreciation of different cultures or the skills to work effectively across different cultures has been questioned. Critics suggest that international case studies are often interpreted from home, rather than host-country perspectives. The employment of academic staff from different countries can certainly help in developing an appreciation of different cultures as can an international student body. Nonetheless, it is well-recognised that these academic and student cultural resources are often under-utilised. International students are not always encouraged to share their international perspectives and academics are not always trained to effectively manage cross-cultural student groups.

Outside the home country, ‘internationalisation abroad’ comprises international field trips, student exchanges and international work placements. However, the limitations of current practice are also recognised here. Overseas visits have been criticised as being too short for students to truly gain any understanding of the host-country culture. In addition, when students travel in large groups from their institution on field trips, their actual interaction with people from different cultures can be very limited. Furthermore, students are not always required to reflect on their experiences to actually identify the knowledge gained about different cultures or question their attitudes towards these differences. International work placements of at least six months can help to overcome these limitations identified yet the difficulty and cost of obtaining visas can make these placements difficult to realise.

Our UK study revealed that while the importance of cross-cultural competence was recognised by deans and programme directors, there is room for improvement in current practice. Given the extent of internationalisation of firms within the hospitality industry, the continued growth of the international travel market and the culturally-diverse workforce employed, cultural competence is fundamentally important. The industry requires culturally intelligent leaders as competition within the industry grows and more and more international hospitality firms from around the world enter new country markets. As such, the need for graduates who are well-prepared to work within the industry, who have developed global perspectives and who have cultural competence is arguably more important than ever.

As educators therefore, it might be time to revisit our curricula to assess whether we are truly moving students through the three key stages of developing cultural competence and graduating students who will become culturally-intelligent leaders. If you think that our internationalisation framework might help you with this assessment, you can find it in either of the references listed below. As CHRIE members, we should also consider how we can harness the cultural diversity embedded within our organisation for the benefit of our students to help prepare them for a globalised industry and globalised world. I would be happy to hear any suggestions you might have.

With kind regards,
Maureen Brookes, President, ICHRIE

Brookes, M. & Becket, N. (2011). The Internationalisation of Hospitality Management Degree Programmes, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 23 (2), 241-269.

Brookes, M. & Becket, N. (2011). Developing Global Perspectives through International Management Degrees, Journal of Studies in International Education, 15(4), 374 - 394.