Jean Philippe Bittencourt is the new General Manager of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel. He spoke to Patrick Kagenda about his vision, their operations and the general hospitality industry in the country.
What is your background as far as the hotel industry is concerned?
I have worked in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years and 15 of those as a General Manager in various regions and countries ranging from the Middle East and Africa to South America and Europe. I hold a Master’s Degree in Hotel Business Administration from IMHI Cornell MBA Program.
What is your strategy for the Sheraton Kampala Hotel this year?
Ian Duncan did a great job in restoring Sheraton Kampala’s reputation, working on several initiatives, which included training as well as bringing in a new management team that completely overhauled the food and beverage operations. Our strategy will be to continue with the work he started but also initiate several renovations and upgrade projects that will provide a much needed facelift of several public and operations areas. I also intend to keep focusing on learning and development of young local talent and their career plan. I will also look into investing in our local management team in areas related to new technologies, new market trends, welfare, and safety and security regulations to ensure a smooth succession plan in the future. From a sales and marketing point of view, the main strategy will be to maximize the potential of the various global Starwood programs such as SPG and SPG Pro as well as participating in international trade shows and global sales tours plus focusing on events and outside catering. The idea is to ensure that Sheraton Kampala remains relevant and competitive in the market and to contribute towards the development of Uganda as a tourist destination.
You have come at a time when the tourism and hospitality industry is poised to grow; with increase in investments and global visibility. Having worked in different markets, what insights do you have from other markets about the industry?
I see a great potential to develop tourism in Uganda because of the rich history and culture, the wonderful and unique attractions found in the wild life, and mostly the hospitality of the Ugandan people. There are some good examples and best practices to be inspired from in the region, however, Uganda must highlight these unique aspects on the international scene to inspire international traveler`s and nature lovers to come over and create unique experiences and unforgettable memories.
What challenges are you anticipating the industry to face?
We already know that the election period caused quite a bit of economic uncertainty with companies cutting back on travel as well as tourists staying away due to travel advisories from some of our key feeder markets. However, we are already looking into the near future with optimism when all development projects and the economic activity will be back on track generating business and opportunities for all hotel industry. We also still need to look at the US dollar rate fluctuation and the effect it can have on our operating costs.
Some wonder whether customer strategy of the industry is well suited for today’s multi-generational customer trends? What is Sheraton doing about it?
There is a lot of innovation being introduced in the Hotel industry and Starwood is at the forefront of some of these initiatives like the SPG mobile App that allows members to book rooms with personalization features like the room type, choice of view, smoking or non-smoking and many more. Starwood has also introduced a feature that allows guests to check in to some hotel rooms using just their phone and although it will take a while before we adopt the keyless check-in, you can be assured that Sheraton Kampala will be looking to be a trend setter in tailoring the customer experience through the different generational trends.
How has Sheraton managed to stay on top of the hospitality industry in the region?
Sheraton Kampala for a long time was the only internationally-recognized brand in Uganda and part of one of the world’s largest and most-recognizable hotel brands. Together with our rich heritage and reputation for service delivery, it has helped cement our position as the number one hotel in Uganda. We continuously carried out market research and leading market trends globally and regionally, thus offering new technologies and innovative solutions for the international business and leisure travelers taking in consideration cultural diversities.
How will the change of Sheraton ownership from Starwood to Marriot International affect its operation particularly here in Uganda?
There is a transitional team working on the whole integration process and it should be noted that the transaction will not completely take effect until about mid this year. We are however aware that not much will change in terms of the operations of our business. A lot of resources have been invested into developing the Sheraton brand as well as the other brands under the current Starwood umbrella, it is more than likely all the brands will be maintained as they are nevertheless we shall be communicating with various stakeholders during the integration process to inform them of any changes they may need to be aware of.