An Examination of International Employees' Use of Native Language in Service Encounters in the Hospitality Industry

Chen, Tingting
Williamson, David
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Master of International Hospitality Management
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Auckland University of Technology

In the modern globalised context, it is commonplace in the hospitality industry for international employees to serve customers in their native language when they share the same ethnicity. Many studies have been conducted to explore the use of native language between employees and customers, but most of these studies have investigated customers’ attitudes from the perspective of customer service. Thus, how service employees perceive serving customers with the same ethnicity using their native language is still under-researched in the hospitality industry. This study addresses this gap by examining service employees’ perceptions of native language use in intercultural service encounters. By employing semi-structured interviews as the research method, this study interviewed international hospitality employees from five-star hotels in Auckland. All the employees spoke English as second language and had experiences of speaking their native language in customer service. The findings of this study reveal that international hospitality employees have the willingness and awareness to accommodate customers of shared ethnicity with their native language. While in specific service encounters, the shared ethnicity has the potential to constrain employees’ adoption of their native language use when serving customers from the same country. Main factors contributing to the avoidance of native language include ambiguous positions, lack of respect, extra workload, and excessive intimacy from customers. In consideration of the scarcity of research into employees’ attitudes towards the adoption of native language in customer service, this study is the first attempt to investigate native language use in intercultural service encounters from the perspective of service employees in the hospitality context. Results of this study contribute to the literature on intercultural service encounters and work stress regarding international employees’ native language use. Also, for hotel practitioners, findings of this study may offer them valuable managerial implications in establishing applicable and effective language policy concerning native language use in intercultural service encounters.

Hospitality , Employees , Native language , Service encounters
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