Ronald Oballa on managing a five-star establishment without rooms

Ronald Oballa manages the Chillax Lounge that is part of the Century Park Hotel and Residences in Nyarutarama.

Ronald Oballa manages the Chillax Lounge that is part of the Century Park Hotel and Residences in Nyarutarama. He shared his experiences in the world of high-end hospitality with Moses Opobo…

How did you find a job at Chillax Lounge?

I got the job through reference from someone who knew me and what I did in Nairobi. I came here at the beginning of July, and it was my first time in Rwanda. 

The lounge wanted someone who had an idea of how to operate a high end establishment, so owing to my background and having worked with a few international hospitality companies, they thought I could pull it off.

Where did you go for your professional training?

Ronald Oballa. (Moses Opobo)

I went to Utalii College in Nairobi between 2002 and 2006. My experience at Utalii was very nice. Those days they used to train us in hospitality in a proper way and I hope that they still do the same today.

We were equipped with a range of skills like proper dining etiquette, how to groom yourself, the dressing, all those were part of the training.

We used to cover a subject called bee hive. This is where they train you on how to behave when you are dining, how you take your girl out, how to dress and how to carry yourself, fine dining and all those little details.

What do you think makes Utalii College a regional power house in hospitality training?

It was built by the Swiss, and Switzerland is known worldwide for training in high end hospitality. It was opened in the 1970s, and was purpose-built for hospitality, with all the things you might need to offer hospitality training.

It has trained most of the top hospitality personnel in East Africa and beyond. Go to Kigali, Kampala, even as far as the Middle East, and you will find hotel managers from Utalii.

What followed after hospitality school?

I went to Nyali Beach Hotel in Mombasa, where I worked in the bar and restaurant. 

Then I went to Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel, a leading international hospitality brand, still in Nairobi. At Fairmont they believe in a culture of training and talent. That’s where I got my exposure and I can say it was my home for proper training in hospitality both in terms of on-job training and also experience.

That was where I was put into leadership programs. It was a good experience from which I learnt a lot as a manager

After Fairmont I went to Capital Club East Africa end of the year 2013, still in Nairobi, a club for the blue chip companies, top business people and high end place for networking. Capital club is an international brand spread all over the world.

What’s your typical day-to-day work schedule?

It’s not an easy schedule because we are basically just three months old. So it’s a baby. That means I’m engaged most of the time. I get up early to work on different programs and events that are coming up all the time. There’s still so much that we are yet to do. 

On a day to day basis I have to make sure that my inventory is properly done, meaning that my stock levels should be maintained at all times, I make sure that whatever is missing I get to know. So the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is make phone calls to find out what may be missing from the previous day.

Another thing I have to check is my staff. I have to make sure they are there, and if anybody is not coming to work I have to change their schedule so that when guests come they are properly manned because service is key. 

Also I have to meet with my bosses and brief them on the progress and the financials and also about some of the things I plan to do.

In your own view, what is customer care all about?

Customer care is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoe –in the shoes of the customer. 

Imagine you are a customer and you are at a hotel, how would you like to be treated yourself?

When you put that into your thinking, then you will be willing and in position to help that person.

Finally, what’s new at Chillax Lounge?

The lounge is now open in the morning. We used to open from 5:00 pm, but we changed it because we thought it wise to do coffee as the equipment and facilities were already in place.

From 8:00 am you can have a hot beverage at the Lounge. People need a place they can sit and discuss business but not in the office and Chillax Lounge offers that kind of environment of a five-star establishment without rooms.

We have also partnered with Heineken and we will have themed nights every month. We will also have corporate nights every month as a tradition for business people to network in Kigali.Our aim is to create such an environment like the one at Capital club. Alongside that there is more we are planning to roll out as Century Park.


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