Jean Byamugisha, the Executive Director at Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) is not only knowledgeable about hotel and tourism sectors, but also passionate about them. UHOA is currently composed of 520 members.
In an exclusive interview with Business Focus, Byamugisha (in featured photo above) assesses the performance of the hotel sector in 2019 and its outlook in 2020.
She also discusses a wide range of issues including investment opportunities that exist in the hotel sector.
Below are the excerpts of the interview;
Qn: How would you describe 2019 for hotel business?
A: 2019 has been a very good year for the hotels in Uganda. We have actually been on an upward trajectory since 2017. 2019 saw the opening of new hotels but most of all emphasis on MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events).
It’s also beautiful to note that the majority of the hotels in Uganda are locally owned which is a boost to our economy because all income is earned and spent in our economy.
We are also proud to see many international hotels chains looking to set up shop in Uganda. It’s indeed a boost for our economy.
Qn: What key achievements has UHOA registered this year?
A: 2019 was our most successful year yet. We started implementing a new project with Tourcert – to train our members in more sustainable ways of running their establishments; we attended many international events where we joined colleagues on the rest of the African continent to push for a visa free Africa for Africans. UHOA was also featured in the UN WOMEN report featuring businesses that encourage female participation and growth and most of all UHOA was at the forefront of many international meetings for instance the CPC (Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference ) where UHOA worked with government to ensure that the hotels were ready to host all the delegates that attended this meeting.
Qn: Hotels are key for the tourism sector. What’s your take on the standards of Ugandan hotels?
A: Standards of the hotels in Uganda are definitely improving though they are not yet at the level that we envision for our industry.
Thanks to the tax exemption on hotel operational materials from government, many hotels have now been able to furnish their hotels to much better standards than they were a few years ago.
I can confidently say that today you can stay in an upcountry hotel that offers the same class and amenities like the Kampala hotels which was not the case a few years ago.
With the growth of tourism, there is now concerted efforts to make the hotel sector very competitive not only in Uganda but in East Africa and Africa. There are many efforts by the private investors to build hotels that can command top dollar even at the international market.
Qn: How are standards in Ugandan hotels enforced?
A: The standards of the hotels are currently enforced through grading and classification. Once you are classified as a five star hotel you must maintain that standard otherwise you will be downgraded and no one want that. Effective next year, all hotels will be required to have a Tourism license to operate. UTB (Uganda Tourism Board) is currently carrying out sensitization of the local government officials to ensure smooth transition into this activity. This is done in collaboration with UHOA. This, we hope will enforce the standards that each hotel will be required to meet before they are deemed fit to operate.
Qn: What role does UHOA play in improving the standards of hotels?
A: UHOA is a private sector association that doesn’t have legal mandate to enforce standards of hotels in Uganda. However, we do self regulation amongst our membership. All our members must meet a particular criterion and maintain the set standards to remain members of the association.
UHOA also carries out regular training programs for our members with support from government, development partners as well as self funded programs.
UHOA also hosts benchmarking trips every year for our members to travel the world and visit more developed markets so as to learn the competition and improve to match the ever changing global trends of the hotel industry.
Qn: What’s your take on the quality of training in Uganda’s hospitality industry?
A: This unfortunately is still below par. That’s why we see many people complaining about expatriate top management in many hotels.
Our training institutes are doing a good job closing the gap but it’s not yet to the level that the sector demands. An investor cannot put up a 5 star hotel and then entrust this investment in the hands of someone not trained to manage a five star establishment hence hiring foreign trained manpower. However, efforts are being made to address this and in 2020, UHOA in partnership with Government will launch an apprenticeship program that will open the doors to everyone wishing to work in the hotel sector in Uganda.
Qn: In your opinion, what investment opportunities exist in the hotels sub-sector?
We certainly have a big gap in 5 star hotels that have enough conference facilities to host all the meetings that we are currently bidding for in Uganda.
Most importantly, we need a convention center of international repute and class to help Uganda in our quest to be the meetings capital of East and Central Africa.
We would also like to see regional convention centers that would make it possible for us to host international meetings outside of Kampala.
Qn: What key challenges is the hospitality/hotel business facing?
A: Human resource still remains one of our biggest challenges. We need to have the training school in Jinja up and running to bridge this gap.
The tax regime is also one of our biggest challenges. Hotels currently pay 26 different types of licenses and taxes which makes the cost of operations very expensive. Unfortunately, this makes our hotels in Uganda very expensive.
Qn: What drives you in what you do?
A: Passion. I love the hotel sector. I love working with young people. I love working in a sector that supports women and gives women similar opportunities to men.
I love the exposure that the hotel sector accords me. Most of all I love working in a sector where you can see dreams manifest into reality.
Usually, I meet investors at the very start of their investment and we walk the journey with them until they open their doors. This is truly a magical time to be a part of. I love my job… I love the hotel industry.
Qn: What message do you have to young women who want to make it in top leadership positions?
A: A study was carried out recently and details how hard it is for women to get to the top positions despite women out performing men in managerial positions. We must encourage and support young women to take up managerial positions in their chosen fields. This has become a global trend that we must also join since Uganda has a young population majority of whom are women.
It takes hard work and passion for anyone to make it to the top. Young ladies should not only wait for women emancipation programs to take up leadership opportunities. Let’s look at powerful women like Susan Muhwezi, Maggie Kigozi, Doris Akol, Allen Laguna to mentor and inspire the young upcoming female leaders.
Qn: What’s your outlook for hotel and tourism sectors in 2020?
2020 is destined to be a great year for the tourism sector. We shall see new hotels opening up, some government programs on capacity building being implemented and hopefully we shall see our training school in Jinja completed and open.
However, this will only happen if we are not derailed by some government decisions that affect the reputation of our tourism industry, for instance the proposed Murchison falls give away. This really demoralizes the stakeholders in the tourism industry.
Qn: What’s your last word…
The hotel sector is growing very steadily. UHOA will continue to serve our members in 2020 and this year will be especially special to us because we shall be celebrating our 20th year anniversary. This is a sector that supports young people and young women. We are proud and honored to serve Ugandans and the international community, as we have always done, in the New Year.