When I was a teenager, I was passionate about languages, travelling and journalism. This passion was probably born from the numerous foreign magazines my mum used to bring home when she was working at the American Embassy in Cotonou, Bénin. She was not surprised when I decided that I would do a hospitality and tourism at school (one of my best choices in life). My hotel management school programmes included coursework in marketing, accounting, management, food service, maintenance, quality standards, housekeeping, and I even had a flowering course.
After I graduated from school I was privileged to work with an international hospitality chain before becoming a trainer on quality and service standards for 32 hotels spread across 21 African countries.
The reason I made this introduction is to shed light on the fact the hospitality industry offers a broad number of occupations at all stages, which require different levels of passion, commitment, education and training. Contrary to the belief of many, this industry is not for people who have failed in school, and just “find themselves there while waiting for greener pastures elsewhere”.
Some hospitality sector employee are always in direct contact with the public while others work in management.
Hospitality workers are usually required to have skills in customer service and communication, and must be ready to work 20 hours a day, besides working ong weekends or public holidays.
Just like any other industry, the sector requires professionalism, expertise and a workforce that offers variety with many different, exciting, sub-industries within the service industry. These include hotels, restaurants, events planning, food service management, night clubs, theme parks, transportation, cruise line, and other additional fields in the tourism industry. It is also important to understand that running one’s household is completely different to managing a hotel or restaurant even if they could have some similarities.
The local hospitality sector has grown significantly and is slowly becoming of age, especially looking at the numerous hotels opening across the country. Probably, all these investors have well written business plans that allow them acquire loans from banks. However, most of the investors in the local hospitality sector do not have a background in hospitality. They invest in the sector “because it is believed to be a quick way of getting a good return on investment”.
This could be correct when done professionally because the hospitality sector is a multibillion-dollar industry, involving direct and indirect stakeholders. What is sad though is the inability or reluctance of these investors to recruit skilled people to run their multi-million-businesses. Often it is family members, many of whom have no background in hospitality, and lacking any clue on minimum required standards that are in charge.
I must admit though that I have often met skilled people who, though they did not attend any hospitality school, were intelligent enough to invest in self-learning to acquire the requisite knowledge and exposure to operate their enterprises. These are people who are sociable, dynamic, love serving others, and who do not fancy the traditional 8-5pm office jobs.
Still on training, I was saddened a few weeks ago I spoke to three different students of one of the top local tourism college and I was perplexed none of them could answer a simple question in English. Hold on before you remind me that Kinyarwanda is the national language of Rwanda. That is true, but the students I met will graduate soon. In fact, I am sure most of these will be employed in the new hotels that are opening shopping in Rwanda or the existing ones.
Though my judgement on the quality of these hospitality schools cannot be based solely on this experience, this experience really made me question the capacity of all these institutions to equip students with the necessary skills to run and drive the sector to the next level. How good are their curricula, and who are their instructors? In which language do they offer these trainings? Do these schools offer internship programmes to provide hands-on experience to students?
I couldn’t stop asking myself many questions: the country is banking on these students for better and improved service delivery in the hospitality sector in Rwanda going forward. Remember, the authenticity, professionalism, quality of our hospitality schools impacts on the level of service in the country.
It is, therefore, paramount that we seriously look into the curricula of these institutions to ensure they are offering relevant skills, and not just making money. Otherwise, we could be shocked at the calibre of our hospitality sector graduates, say two or five years when we expect to be a destination of choice for tourists and top conferences.
The author is a customer service consultant and the publisher of The ServiceMag