What Is Business Acumen and Why Is It So Important?

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

In honor of the one-year anniversary of the individual Certified in Hospitality Business Acumen (CHBA) course, HSMAI is republishing this article from May 2020. One year later, 163 people have taken advantage of this unique certification program, with 90 percent of participants rating it as excellent. The individual CHBA is now available at a reduced cost of $450 for HSMAI members and $650 for nonmembers.

No matter your discipline, business acumen is essential to your career in the hospitality industry. Learning business acumen means getting acquainted with everything you should know about the business world — soft skills, finance, reporting, communications, investing, profitability.

Specific to the hospitality industry, whether you’re looking to better understand metrics and managing business priorities, strengthen your partnership with hotel owners, or simply drive better results, sharpening your core business acumen skills will help. While these skills may seem simple, business acumen is something that hospitality professionals often overlook because it’s so fundamental. And while not having a strong proficiency in business acumen may not be detrimental to your career, having those skills is often what sets people apart from their peers.

HSMAI has offered a Certified in Hospitality Business Acumen (CHBA) class for organizations that want to improve their teams’ business strengths for nearly a decade, and recently introduced a version of the course for individual hospitality professionals. The CHBA program enables participants to upgrade their business acumen skills and drives an elevated understanding of the hospitality industry and how it operates.

According to Peter Russell of Russell Partnership Technology, HSMAI’s partner in the CHBA, business acumen incorporates the core essentials that everyone needs in order to be successful in the hospitality industry and is something that hospitality professionals in all disciplines can benefit from. “It delivers the knowledge that they would otherwise find it quite hard to obtain,” Russell said. “A lot of people assume everyone knows this stuff, but nobody takes the time to teach it. There are a great number of people working their way through the ranks, and as they progress, that essential training and soft skills become more and more important.”


As hotels and other businesses begin to reopen, it is more important than ever for hospitality professionals to have strong business acumen in order to thrive in the post-COVID environment. “I think that the businesses that adapt quickly will be the ones to survive and recover, so now is the ideal time to grow your business acumen,” Russell said. “Business acumen is all about driving your business forward and generating business success. Every business is struggling with success right now, but in terms of coming out and revitalizing, business acumen is going to be an essential part of that in the post-COVID world.”

As more people improve their business acumen skills and progress in their careers, the hospitality industry benefits as well with an influx of more well-rounded employees. Committing to advance your knowledge in business acumen demonstrates a willingness to improving your skillset and expanding your expertise, which leads to further opportunities for individuals and companies. “Stronger skills in business acumen enable people to move to bigger roles and realize dreams they have,” Russell said. “It gives them the knowledge they need to succeed and grow in their careers. It’s good for the individuals and it’s good for the industry as a whole to have more knowledgeable workers out there.”

And it’s not just for the entry level. Business acumen can be beneficial to people at every level of their career — from students still learning hospitality fundamentals, to C-level executives who want to strengthen their basic skills — and in every discipline. “While some elements of business acumen may be more applicable to some disciplines more than others, everyone needs that baseline knowledge,” Russell said. “Every discipline needs people who are proficient in all of these skills.”


HSMAI has been hosting business acumen classes since 2007 and has been offering the CHBA class since 2012. Russell Partnership has worked with HSMAI to develop and rework the course to fit the needs of the industry. The company also works with educational partners who teach hospitality and business acumen to students and hotel companies.

In the CHBA group and individual courses, participants access simulations that put them in the seat of a general manager and has them make decisions on pricing, marketing, staffing, and investments set over the course of a 12-month business cycle.

“It’s the power of the online learning modules delivering business acumen and the simulation program allowing them to put into practice all they’ve learned,” Russell said. “The issue with some programs is that you don’t get to use the knowledge, so it fades away quickly. Placing participants in the simulations means they can put into practice what they’ve learned and make sure they’ve understood it.”

Learn more about or register for the individual and group CHBA programs.

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