Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural Sensitivity

A term which is often used, but not understood correctly. What is it’s true meaning and how can you apply it in Hospitality ?

Today, we’re living in a globalised world and are being exposed to different and new cultures everyday. Each culture is unique, whether it is their rituals, they way they communicate or even the food they eat.

While Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) has become a major element in the Hospitality Industry (and other industries), members of the industry have not become accustomed to understanding members of different backgrounds. A major element of D&I is cultural and racial diversity and this is our focus for today. In order to truly achieve D&I, one needs to master Cultural Sensitivity (CS).

But, what is CS and what steps can you take to become culturally aware? We’ve gathered five tips to help you out!

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What Is Cultural Sensitivity?

The term Cultural Sensitivity can seem quite intimidating, with so many aspects contributing to the true meaning of the term. Practicing CS is a process – you can’t go from 0 to 100, but even going from 0 to 10 is a big step.

In essence, CS refers to respecting all cultural backgrounds and creates a non-discriminatory atmosphere in society. CS allows you to develop a skill set enabling respectful verbal and non-verbal communication with people of all backgrounds. With our communities becoming more diverse, this practice increases your knowledge, awareness and acceptance.

With respect to the hospitality industry in particular, being culturally aware creates a sense of professionalism between members of the industry and guests in a manner where each party can express their cultural norms, without being misunderstood.

Five Tips To Help You Practice CS in Hospitality

1. Respecting Religious & Cultural Rituals

Cultures and religions have all sorts of rituals – some which are necessary to practice regularly, regardless of what the circumstance may be. As a hotelier or member of the hospitality industry in particular, one must learn to respect such customs and accommodate the needs of guests and colleagues.

It could be as simple as understanding the difference in weekends between different regions. In Islam, Friday is the ‘sacred day of worship’ while the ‘Lord’s Day’ in Christianity is Sunday. These factors affect the working week in different regions. Understanding and respecting these cultural differences is a basic step of enhancing your cultural awareness.

Hoteliers, in particular, could also take steps such as creating private space for praying, which is accessible to all at any time. Furthermore, one should also be aware of religious events of significance happening. For example, during Ramadan, steps such as adjusting meal times or removing alcohol from rooms contribute to being culturally sensitive, which guests would appreciate.

2. Food Preferences

This links directly with our first tip! While people are often open to trying new cuisines when they travel to different regions, there are two important considerations that members of the service industry should take into account.

Firstly, it is always important to consider dietary requirements, as some food items are restricted in certain cultures and religions. For example, Muslim guests would require ‘Halal’ food options and Jain guests would require meals which meet their diet. Each culture has its own dietary restrictions, and as members of the service industry, it is a must to consider that each guest should be served a satisfying meal which they are able to eat without breaking any cultural or religious practices. Furthermore, with plant-based diets becoming the new ‘norm’, it is also important to consider such dietary requirements.

Our second point is less related to do with religious requirements, and more related to culture. Yes, when abroad people love exploring the culture and traditions of the region they’re in, but it’s always nice to have a variety of options in terms of food. Guests typically enjoy having access to options which they are familiar with. By having a variety of cuisines, you ensure that you cater to all needs.

3. Customs & Preferences

Moving away from religion-related CS tips, it’s also important to make sure your guests are comfortable in other aspects of their stay.

The most basic example of this could be the channels on a hotel room TV! Having a TV in a room is great – but only if I watch the content being shown on it. Hotels often tend to have channels of the region they’re in, but this often means that guests of other regions cannot understand the language or generally don’t enjoy the content. Having channels of different regions and languages, would make a guest feel more comfortable and would allow them to use the facility!

4. Being Informed of Different Cultural Practices

This tip is relevant not only when communicating with your guests, but also with your colleagues. Guests and members of staff are often from different backgrounds, and with different backgrounds, come different cultural practices.

Here are some examples of cultural norms in different regions. In the Middle East, a man typically never shakes hands with a woman. Bowing is considered a greeting in Japan. In East Asia, giggling is considered a form of embarrassment (when being told off), rather than a form laughing. And in some Western countries, an air kiss on the cheek is considered a greeting.

Each region has its own norms. While you might not know all, it is important to be aware of the important ones in order to make sure whoever you interact with isn’t offended or uncomfortable.

5. Be Observant of Different Cultures

Our last tip is one to summarise them all. CS is a practice which is becoming increasingly popular with our fast-moving, globalised world. You can adopt the aforementioned practices, but in order to become more culturally aware, it is necessary to always be observant of other cultures. This is a form of becoming culturally aware and educated. By noticing small things, and adopting them you are taking the right steps to becoming more aware.