It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when “service” became a dirty word in otherwise civilised societies: work for low-paid, low-skilled and low-status people. Was it when supermarkets began to replace human staff with glitchy self-checkout machines? Or when people started to feel embarrassed about working in a shop or restaurant? Whatever caused this shift in attitude, levels of service in some parts of the world vastly exceed those in others – and it’s time that we talked about it.
Good service helps to sell both your citizens and your nation abroad. While the Swiss trade on silver service, plump pillows and precision table-laying through hospitality schools (and decent, dignified wages for workers), other nations shine too. In parts of Italy, Portugal and Greece, a career as a waiter is still something to be proud of, rather than a stopgap for eye-contact-averse students.
Thailand belongs at the top table of nations that know that a deftly deployed smile can unlock success in retail and hospitality. Meanwhile, any time spent in Japan will teach the difference between the crisp sincerity of someone who is happy to help and the mute of subservience that can pass for five-star service in parts of the Gulf. Service shouldn’t be servile. Done well – with training, opportunities and fair remuneration – it bestows upon those who are good at it the capacity to read a room. Hospitality can teach us to put our ego aside and consider others: a skill that is as useful for a CEO as it is for a sales assistant.
As nations look to invest in future-proofing employment and win friends abroad, hospitality could be an answer. While many believed that AI would quickly make redundant so-called unskilled service jobs, it turns out that screenwriters, financial analysts and even artists might be first in the firing line. The human touch, empathy and the ability to entertain (maybe speak another language, make a bed and pour wine) still matter – and will continue to do so, long after the self-checkout machine is on the scrapheap.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. The December/January issue, containing our annual Soft Power survey, will be on newsstands later this week. Subscribe today so that you never miss an issue.
While the focus of this week’s trip to London by Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is to attract foreign investors for his country, he is once again expected to raise the issue of the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles with his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak. Today, Mitsotakis will be talking to investors at a conference organised by Morgan Stanley and the Athens Stock Exchange before his scheduled meetings with both Sunak and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer.
Sunak’s position will no doubt echo that of his predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who steadfastly refused to let the marbles go. However, the British Museum’s chairman – and former chancellor of the exchequer – George Osborne, is confident that an amicable resolution can be met. In a rather timely manner, he made the decision to release the Meidias Hydria vase back to Athens on loan last week. Fortunately, as Greece regained its investment-grade status, which it lost 13 years ago, and its economy is outgrowing many of its European peers, there’s plenty of positives for Mitsotakis and Sunak to discuss.
This Thursday, the United Nations Cop 28 conference in the UAE will bring together more than 70,000 delegates from 197 countries, in addition to thousands of NGOs and businesses, to address the threat of climate change. Top issues on the agenda include the effort to regroup around the 2015 Paris Agreement (from Cop 21), which aimed to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, a goal that many feel is slipping from reach.
Before this year's agreements and resolutions take place, Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, is reportedly ready to propose a “huge” international fund to conserve the Amazon and other tropical rainforests. “This proposal is very much in line with Lula’s environmental agenda, mimicking the Amazon Fund, which he first launched during his second term,” Joana Ramiro, a commentator in Brazilian politics, tells The Monocle Minute. "Another of Brazil’s new initiatives aims to rehabilitate agricultural land, which, apart from paving the way towards sustainable food production, is also an effort from his administration to appease the Brazilian agricultural lobby."
Following the deep financial uncertainties presented by the pandemic, Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, finally expects to report its first annual profit since 2019. The airline’s recovery has been hampered by strict coronavirus restrictions imposed by Hong Kong and mainland China, a factor that has left it lagging behind other airlines. Now, however, the company expects passenger traffic to return to 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. “These results represent Cathay Pacific’s emergence from a period that some thought it might not survive,” Murdo Morrison, head of strategic content at FlightGlobal, tells The Monocle Minute. “However, Hong Kong – as it often does – has rebounded. It is not the autonomous and free-spirited territory it was but conventions, concerts, tourists and bankers flying Business Class are back. At the same time, demand in the West for fresh produce from the Southwest Pacific, along with e-commerce trade out of China, has boosted Cathay’s cargo business – the one part of the airline that did continue during the pandemic.”
With territorial disputes in the East China Sea intensifying, the Japan Coast Guard is rapidly evolving to contend with new threats. Monocle drops anchor at Ishigaki Island, where the organisation polices vital waters.
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Two pioneering brands changing the game in luxury dental care. Stockholm-based toothpaste and mouthwash brand Selahatin was founded by Swedish-Turkish entrepreneur Kristoffer Vural in response to a personal crisis. Now Vural is elevating the everyday experience of oral hygiene with his beautifully crafted products. Plus: Suri founders Mark Rushmore and Gyve Safavi return to our London studio to talk about how the business has grown since their first visit – and what’s next.