The Importance of Cross-Cultural Training for Tourism Employees

Cross-cultural training is not only useful for employees from different cultures and ethnicities to work together but it is also necessary for employees to learn how to handle certain situations that are raised by customers from diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities.

Globalization has greatly affected the tourism industry. People from newly developed countries now travel in large numbers. According to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, “International visitors spent a record-breaking $180.7 billion on U.S. tourism-related goods and services in 2013,” which represents an increase of 9 percent compared to 2012. As such, diversity has become an increasingly strategic component of the tourism and hospitality industries.

The need for diversity training is serious and urgent, because diverse customers have different cultures and traditions that have to be dealt with. Otherwise, they will be unsatisfied customers. In today’s age of digital devices, unsatisfied customers can share their bad experiences with others via many different tools. When a consumer is making a purchase decision for an intangible product or service, such as those offered in the hospitality and tourism industry, he often will use interpersonal influence and word-of-mouth. As such, an unsatisfied consumer who is sharing his negative experiences with his neighbors or the online community can have a significant impact on a company’s reputation. His opinions can negatively influence and affect the company’s brand. This bad reputation can affect the employees’ work environment, leading to disengagement.

Employees in the tourism and hospitality industry are already subject to high turnover even as new hotels open every day around the world. This means employees won’t hesitate to quit their job if they find a better place to work. This is why it is important to focus on their training, so they can learn how to handle the gap between different cultures that coexist in this type of workplace.

Ultimately, cross-cultural training is not only useful for employees from different cultures and ethnicities to work together but it is also necessary for employees to learn how to handle certain situations that are raised by customers from diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities.

Scenario Sessions

Here is my proposal: First, study the population among your customers. Different people from different countries have different traditions. Once you establish the different type of nationalities that come along in the company, it is important to set up training programs with scenario sessions that allow employees to learn up front about their customers’ cultures, which will help ensure employees to react in a proper way when faced with cultural differences.

As an example: Saeed is an seasoned traveler. He is 20 and comes from Abu Dhabi. His traditions are fundamentally different from those in Western countries. Privacy, for example, is very important. When I asked him if he had a bad experience from one of his previous travels, the answer popped up immediately in his mind. In Paris, an employee from a five-star hotel knocked at his door and then came inside the room, where his family (mother, aunt, and sister) were, despite the “Do Not Disturb” sign hung on the door handle. This was a behavior he judged unacceptable. A simple training on the restricted definition of privacy for people from Gulf countries, many of whom travel to France, would have changed everything.

When I asked him if he would come back to this hotel in France, his answer was, “No.” Such experiences are not uncommon. However, people sharing a tradition of privacy and discretion will feel highly disrespected and will not forget these embarrassing situations. But customers are not the only victims. Every employee working in the tourism and hospitality industries have faced, at one point, a cultural misunderstanding with a customer. Most of them would deem these events “bad experiences” because none of them knew how to deal with them.

After keeping track of the tourist rates based upon their different countries of origin, it is important to create a training plan. The manager should set up a meeting that includes the following topics :

  • Importance of convincing employees of the necessity to attend these courses.
  • Sharing the result of the tourist rates and teaching employees the behaviors to adopt when they deal with tourists from a country with a different culture.
  • Emphasizing that what is acceptable to one customer might not be acceptable to another customer from a different culture. This is important because it affects the company’s reputation.
  • Understanding that behavior is not the only thing employees have to modify. They might have to set up new rules to be sure tourists won’t have issues while they’re enjoying a company’s hospitality. For example, for some people, it is important to take off your shoes before going inside the room. Employees have to make sure this situation won’t lead to any trouble (i.e., shoes being stolen), which can be avoided just by being more attentive, and provide practical solutions such as warning the customer about the risks or finding a safe place to leave these shoes. For a restaurant, a new rule might be noting in writing what foods include meat, pork, beef, and so on, so customers with special dietary needs or allergies can be aware.

In the end, if customers feel their traditions are being taken into account, they will be more likely to develop loyalty toward the company and share their positive experience with other people.


H. Martin, “Spending by International Visitors to U.S. Breaks Record in 2013,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2014, Online ed.

S. W. Litvin, R. E. Goldsmith, B. Pan, “Electronic Word of Mouth in Hospitality and Tourism Management,” June 2005.

Sophie Cuocci is a graduate student in HR Management at Rollins College in Florida. A native of France, she has a BA in Law and a certificate in American Law and worked for the French Administration. She came in the U.S. a year ago in order to obtain an American diploma and professional experience. Workplace diversity issues are her favorite topic, in part because American companies and French companies have very different ways to deal with them.

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