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Opinion Piece ~ Professional Training Needed for the Booming Hospitality and Tourism Industry in Uganda, By Isaac Sebakijje

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Posted January 10, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Featured ~ 8,105 views

     

By Isaac Sebakijje, M.H.C.I.M.A ~ In East Africa today, changes are taking place that will affect travel, tourism and the hospitality industry. All stakeholders and participants including the governments need to be foresighted and innovative to stay in the game. Consumers are already becoming more selective and demanding as standards rise and as choices become more prevalent.

The unification of East Africa by 2015 will have far reaching impact on member countries, the people and industries. There will be consolidation of operations as the economies merge and as people move freely between member states. Although the regional unity is not formalized yet, changes are being implemented in incremental stages. For example, the requirement for East Africans working in Kenya and Rwanda to obtain permits has been lifted, the East African passport has been operationalized and the requirement for student visas for East Africans has been abolished.

When the outgoing President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki delivered the State of the East African Community address to the East African Legislative Assembly at Parliament Buildings in Kampala in January 2012, he highlighted the need to focus on growth sectors such as tourism and ICT. He said that the tourist arrivals in the region had reached 4 million despite insecurity issues and negative travel warnings. I like to look at the service standards of the Uganda hospitality and tourism industry; particularly the hotel and catering establishments including serviced apartments and conference centers.

There are already countless narrations about the beauty of Uganda by writers and promoters from within and outside of Uganda. You can read all about Uganda’s numerous tourist attractions from many sources including various websites. In fact, Uganda has done well to attract thousands of visitors based on these accounts despite adverse events that would generally deter such visitors. For example, the recent outbreaks of deadly Ebola and Marburg diseases in some parts of the country have done little to prevent travelers from coming to Uganda. Because of the country’s diversity of nature, cultures, tradition and people’s hospitality, tourism has remained the second most foreign exchange earner according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics. It is also important to note that Uganda has strongly followed a path of eco-tourism to ensure protection of the country’s natural environment and local culture.

We already know that in addition to attractions, tourism thrives when there is good infrastructure and security in the country. The government and its agencies are doing what they can to meet those challenges despite Uganda’s budgetary constraints. In the meantime, the hospitality industry must examine the critical shortage of qualified staff without which the competitiveness of the industry cannot be sustained in face of the regional dynamics that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The country needs to train the hospitality managers and all service staff (including tour guides) in Uganda to global standards that will meet and exceed the expectations of the guests and travelers in the country.

In November 2012, the East African tourism ministers including Uganda’s Ms. Maria Mutagamba met in London and declared that East Africa is to be promoted as one tourist destination immediately and as we move towards regional unification in 2015. Hospitality services and classifications are to be harmonized throughout the region. This declaration puts in place a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework that requires expert staff training in such expanded market of over 140 million people. Competition will no longer depend on price alone but mainly on the quality of service and amenity standards throughout the greater region as acknowledged during the African Hotels Investment Forum that was held in Nairobi last November 2012. Hospitality assessors have already been trained to perform the assessment and classification of hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities. In fact, a regional directory profiling leaders in the industry as well as information on leading hotels is already in publication and being circulated to all East African Embassies worldwide.

Recently, I stopped at one of the landmark five star hotels in Nairobi which still looks impressive and continues to provide good service. I was told that the property will soon be closing for complete renovation, amenity upgrade and staff re-training. The owners are doing this in order to stay competitive in face of the heightened regional standards of service ahead. They already know that what is good today may not be as competitive tomorrow. According to the Commonwealth Secretariat research paper entitled “Marketing Uganda’s Higher Education”; Uganda has a fairly strong education system with a diverse range of academic programmes and quality of graduates. If the country continues to put proper infrastructures, personnel and marketing systems in place, it can not only put thousands of its young citizens to work but also earn from education export like many other developed countries. Unfortunately, due to past challenges, tourism was inadequately facilitated and, consequently, the education and training of hospitality industry workers took a back seat.

Although Uganda suffers from joblessness in other industries, the hospitality is an industry that suffers from shortage of qualified staff. Currently, Makerere University has a department that offers an academic Bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism. There is also a government owned Hotel and Tourism Training Institute located in Jinja which is reported to be dilapidated and on the verge of collapse after 20 years in business. A comment on this school by Professor George Kanyeihamba who once headed the commission of inquiry into World Bank funded Protected Areas Management and Sustainability (PAMSU) suggests that more funding alone for this school would be a waste of time unless inherent problems of improper management, infrastructural development and re-equipping the institution are addressed.

Apparently, the government is working on resolving these issues and reinstate the school’s operations. Other private colleges and universities in the country offer vocational or short diploma and certificate courses in hotel and catering although some may lack recognizable accreditations. Those schools include Jimmy Ssekasi Institute of Catering, YMCA, YWCA, Kyambogo University and others. There are also students in the country who are taking online courses to acquire academic knowledge. It is encouraging to see that there is some fragmented effort for training people in this field. However, students who graduate from these vocational courses are limited to working in low end jobs such as waiters, cooks, housekeepers and receptionists because these schools lack hands on facilities required in the modern hotel and catering industry.

Therefore, the most sought after managerial staffs by large establishments are imported from outside with the exception of a few such as Hotel Africana and Protea who have some Ugandan senior managers on their staff. In the absence of local qualified personnel, the dominant brand name hotels and restaurants bring in their own expatriate management and supervisory teams. Investors search for and demand highly-qualified personnel. Therefore, education and training in this area must be revamped immediately in order to serve the budgetary and high end establishments alike.

The Director for Africa-India Hilton Hotels worldwide Yan Van Putin was quoted saying that once the Hilton Hotel opens in Kampala in March 2013, it will be one of the best in Africa offering traditional Uganda hospitality including education and training. It is encouraging to know that because without this kind of high level practical training, the country’s economy and its people will not be able to fully benefit from Uganda’s tourism experience. The Hilton Hotel project by Aya Group was greatly supported by Uganda government.

As of today, Utalii College in Nairobi with branches/campuses in other parts of Kenya is the leading organized hospitality school in East Africa although there are also other private hotel and tourism schools in the country. Utalii is affiliated with international accredited schools and its culinary students are able to sharpen their skills interning in the kitchens of brand hotels like The Inter-Continental Hotel, Nairobi. The school strives to align the curriculum to industry needs by balancing theory, practice and technological advancement. Utalii is the only source of managerial hospitality staff in East Africa but it cannot satisfy the ever growing demand for the region due to increasing shortage of talent and stiff competition. The Japanese funded National College of Tourism (NCT) of Tanzania offers certificate and diploma level courses in various hospitality disciplines but not higher managerial training yet.

This presents Uganda with an entry point to set up an international accredited hospitality training institution with state of the art equipment and resources for learning. The school will not only fill the gap within the country but also reap the benefits of training aspiring hoteliers and caterers from neighboring states. Mr. Peter Ssegawa, the managing director for the Protea Hotel Entebbe recently said that government had a duty to put in place modern training facilities to foster skills in tourism, hotel and hospitality.

Hospitality and tourism is one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic industries. It offers a broad variety and high number of jobs across the globe. Career prospects in the industry remain strong since it is one of the fastest growing industries not only in East Africa but also throughout the world. In Uganda, the industry is growing very fast and it has the potential to contribute highly to economic growth, employment and poverty reduction.

The increase in hotel rooms is attributed to increasing investments in budgetary motel style units and guest houses by individual entrepreneurs. These smaller establishments fill in the niche for travelers and businessmen as opposed to tourists and international conventioneers who patronize high end brand hotels, safari lodges and conference centers. These moderately priced hotels that accommodate the bulk of travelers to Uganda, will be better served by a trained workforce.

The media and all private and government agencies talk about the hospitality and tourism boom in the country. In fact National Geographic listed Uganda on their “top 20 must-see places of 2013.” thanks to the local tour operators who have given the industry more visibility. The Ugandan President has also exhibited renewed vigour while talking about the tourism industry. The President launched a new initiative on tourism, the ‘Presidential Enterprise on Sustainable Tourism in Uganda’ (PRESTO) to look into how best the country can capitalize on the nation’s attractions and to support tourism exhibitions across the country.

The Tourism Ministry has also stepped up aggressive marketing and promotions overseas. What is lacking in this equation is a demonstrable effort to deal with this training deficit and the uplifting of service standards throughout the industry. The government and donor agencies, lending institutions, private organizations and professional associations within the industry must work together in support of facilitating this effort. That should include, but not limited to, The Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Investment Authority, Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association and Uganda missions overseas.

The government can set up an incubator facility for start-ups or provide more support for struggling, cash strapped private schools. An incubator facility is a space set up to nurture young firms during their early months or years. It consists of affordable shared space, offices and services with hands on practical training and support by experienced professionals in the industry. It might also be advisable to consider a Public Private Partnership approach whereby government and private sectors come together and share investment, risk, responsibility and reward in establishing the school. This might involve the financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance of the school. A good example of this government combined effort is currently taking place in Rwanda. The government over there is facilitating construction of a campus dedicated to training hospitality and tourism students. Also in Rwanda, a private effort has been exemplified by Zulfat Mukarubega, a woman who single handedly opened up the Rwanda Tourism University College with an intake capacity of 4000 students. It’s time for Uganda’s public and private sectors to seriously tackle this shortage of skilled manpower and expertise by raising Uganda’s poor training capacity in this vital sector.

Today, tourists are spoilt for choice and will not entertain sloppiness for service. Poor customer service across the industry reduces the competitiveness of Uganda as a tourism destination despite the government’s aggressive marketing. World- class service does not just happen; training is important in delivering the service that guests have come to expect. Uganda must identify the few skilled practitioners in the industry and engage them to impart their knowledge and skill to this effort. That way, the country can enhance the natural friendliness and hospitality of its people with professional service standards in order to equate with the new and dynamic job market demands.

The writer, Isaac Sebakijje, is an internationally trained and experienced hotelier and tourism professional. He is also a proponent of eco-tourism. He worked with brand hotels and conference centers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States for over 25 years. He returned to East Africa with the desire to utilize his transnational industry expertise within the unified region. He can be contacted at: Isaac.sebakijje49@gmail.com


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

4 Comments


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