Bridging capacity gap in EAC hospitality sector

Alpine Center, the Swiss Business School for Hotel and Tourism Management, in collaboration with Boma International Hospitality College of Kenya will be launching the first Swiss hotel and tourism school in Africa based in Nairobi next month.

Alpine Center, the Swiss Business School for Hotel and Tourism Management, in collaboration with Boma International Hospitality College of Kenya will be launching the first Swiss hotel and tourism school in Africa based in Nairobi next month.

The school will be focusing on providing graduates with real-time marketable skills utilising its proven expertise and resources. In Rwanda, the French international tourism institute, Vatel, will establish its campus in Kigali as a step towards its expansion in Sub Saharan Africa.

This will be its first project in the region. Vatel is the largest group of hospitality and tourism management schools in the world with more than 30 campuses worldwide, including in Europe, the USA and South America.

Furthermore, Remera Hospitality Academy (RHA), along with the government of Rwanda, has gone into partnership with Les Roches University to build a $14 million hospitality university in Kicukiro District.

Les Roches ranks as one of the Swiss top hospitality management schools in the world. RHA was established in 2012 to upgrade skills of hotel and restaurant workers. The collaborative venture will also teach communication proficiency using several languages, especially common regional languages of English, French and Kiswahili.

Areas of skill deficit to be covered include hotel managers, chefs, cooks, waiters, service personnel and technicians.

The governments, donour agencies, lending institutions, private organizations and professional associations are finally working together to support what amounts to be a public private partnership approach in this effort.

The success of Utalii College in Kenya is mainly attributed to similar global linkages involving strategic collaboration between government and private institutional stakeholders.

These linkages are not limited to funding but also include provision of advisory services and technical assistance that can strengthen the institutions’ creditworthiness.

Tanzanian government owned National College of Tourism (NCT) and Ugandan government-owned Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute (HTTI) are currently being supported by multi donor and funding agencies such as United Nations Development Programmes and the World Bank.

The support is intended to uplift the standards beyond the orthodox way of learning as well as infrastructure development. Both these national schools will inevitably follow the new trends that seek business skills, accounting, finance, information technology, marketing and languages that can only come from top line global collaboration as seen in Kenya and Rwanda.

In Burundi, hotel brands that set up shop in that country brought in their own managerial staff and trained others in-house. One of such brand hotels located in the capital city of Bujumbura is the Doubletree by Hilton Worldwide.

The East African hotel industry is certainly undergoing rapid growth. International hotel brands like the Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood, Carlson Rezidor, Kempinski and others are increasing their investments in the region.

They are introducing their diversified portfolios of hotels ranging from luxury to budgetary properties. However, finding the local technical workforce posed a major problem.  Many companies found   academically qualified candidates locally who lacked the ability to fill the positions that require practical, hands-on skills demanded by the industry. 

The short term solution for such hotel groups entering the region has been twofold. First, they import foreign staff to fill immediate managerial and supervisory positions. Secondly, they set up in house practical training classes and workshops for their individual properties.

For example, the Marriott, which is the largest hotel company in Africa, offers their own Voyage Global Leadership Development Program to qualified applicants who seek to acquire practical hands on experience and leadership skills.

While these initiatives continue to be viable short term fixes, they leave many small to medium independent hoteliers and restaurateurs with workers who are incapable of meeting the competitive high service standards demanded by today’s choosy consumers.

Until now, Utalii College in Kenya has been the trusted source of credible managerial and supervisory hotel staff in East Africa. With the current accelerated industry development, the staff demand has far outstripped supply which Utalii alone cannot fulfill.

External recruitment by companies will continue for some time as each country develops its own human resource base through knowledge transfer. In order to deal with the acute shortages of manpower in this industry, countries that do best will be those with governments that are flexible and adaptable to the changes needed by building partnerships in training and education.

Global investments and institutional participation will help the region in a variety of ways. For instance, it will promote harmonization of professional standards.

It will also elevate the spirit of entrepreneurship where students will not only consider employment but also venture out in self employment in this multi-faceted industry.

This will be even more evident when governments can go a step further by including hospitality and tourism education in their public school curricula. Institutional investors are eyeing Africa for opportunities.

The writer is an hotelier and tourism professional