GHN Thought Leader

Dawn Sweeney

President and Chief Executive Officer, National Restaurant Association

Building “Destination Ecosystems” for Better Business

Hospitality is the business of welcoming people, and happily it means opening our doors to guests from across the globe. In 2018, the United States welcomed more than 81 million international visitors, and we expect that number could grow to more than 95 million by 2023. For the hospitality industry, America is a land of opportunity and growth.

This globetrotting trend is good news for hoteliers and restaurateurs alike. Every town – from Homestead, Florida to Sitka, Alaska – celebrates the tourism dollar, and we’re finding our industry can best thrive if we collaborate to create attractive “destination ecosystems” that integrate the hospitality businesses to make a destination irresistibly inviting.

Increasingly, the intersection of hotels and restaurants is becoming more pronounced. Passing through the lobby of a hotel, travelers may notice a fine dining restaurant led by a prominent chef, a quick service grab-and-go kiosk, and a third-party delivery driver, all before they get to the room-service menu. At the same time out-of-town visitors are asking the concierge for recommendations to experience the local nightlife, hotel restaurants are also attracting local diners.

Partnerships between hotels and chefs are good for business. The profitability of these arrangements is rising, with another year of five percent annual growth in the forecast.

Essential to the success of our interdependence is our workforce. Like the hotel industry, restaurants provide employees opportunities for upward mobility and career growth. The restaurant industry expects to fill 1.6 million jobs over the next 10 years. To ensure we fill those positions with the best candidates and prepare them for a successful career, we have partnered with the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the U.S. Department of Labor to establish the industry’s first-ever Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship program. The program expects to have registered 1,500 apprentices by year-end.

As Generation Z enters the workforce, we are also focused on providing the education they will need to build a solid foundation for a career in the industry. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart® program offers hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities that teach students culinary, service, and management skills. More than 150,000 young people in more than 1,900 high schools across the U.S., Guam, and U.S. Department of Defense schools in Europe and the Pacific enter the program each year. Along with kitchen and management skills, they build a skillset of professionalism, positivity, communication, and leadership that will serve them well throughout their careers.

Recently, we released the 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report. We closely track major trends in the industry to help our members better identify business innovations and diner desires. One of our major focuses in this year’s report was how technology is changing how restaurants do business, from workforce skill sets to front- and back-of-house management.

While consumers are looking for technology that makes the experience easier and faster, they are also still looking for hospitality – the human interaction that often makes travel and dining experiences particularly memorable. When it comes to technology and putting consumers in charge of their experiences, we are competing against some formidable market players. The best people with the best knowledge, along with great customer service, is what we have to offer when up against technology-based companies. To continue to thrive in this environment, we will need a workforce of the highest caliber employees who are adaptable, accountable, agile, and diverse.

In many ways, hospitality was the original “gig economy” with flexible schedules that empowered employees to hold down a rewarding job while also going to school, raising a family, or pursuing a hobby. We asked Gen Z about what they hope to find in their future career; they aspire to be business owners and operators and are looking for opportunities to meet mentors from whom they can continue to learn. And along with flexibility, they place high value on job recognition and a team atmosphere. It is incumbent on us to demonstrate to the next generation that a career in hospitality and foodservice can put the world at their fingertips.

Today, travelers have the world at their fingertips, so it is exciting to observe how cities, small towns, and remote outposts are finding their identities and marketing their destinations to both nearby neighbors and visitors from abroad. As hospitality professionals, we all have a part to play in helping make our communities and our neighbors successful. Our employees are often the first people visitors meet and the ones who wish them safe travels home. Together, we can build an experience that will keep them coming back for more.


Dawn Sweeney is the President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.