Jean – Philippe Bittencourt, is the general manager for Sheraton Kampala Hotel. He spoke to The Independent’s Julius Businge on the prospects of Uganda’s hotel industry.
How would you describe the 50 years journey of Sheraton Kampala Hotel?
It is a landmark in our lives and we will continue to celebrate the heritage of the building and its significance to the story of Kampala and Uganda’s tourism industry as the country’s oldest internationally recognized hotel brand. Over the past years, we have hosted many important people and meetings including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mineral Wealth Conference, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and we hope to continue doing the same. As private players, we will continue to invest a lot in new technology to attract more customers and grow the business.
What key contribution has Sheraton made to Uganda’s economy?
As a hotel, we pay local hotel tax to the Kampala Capital City Authority and employ over 400 staff remitting their retirement benefits to NSSF and PAYE contributions to the government. We also offer industrial training program for students twice a year.
Over the years, we have been reinvesting part of our revenues – a minimum of 3% – especially on the infrastructure for the hotel and new technology, water systems, air conditioning systems among others.
And as we embark on another 50 years journey, we hope to grow with the economy and contribute more of taxes, jobs, and skills development.
Has the performance of Uganda’s economy impacted on your business generally over the years?
Of course our business is connected to the performance of the economy. I honestly think this economy has not been bad for the past few decades. Key indicators like Gross Domestic Product have been growing at over 5% and that means investments and productivity has been taking place. Nevertheless, we experienced slow business in the second half of 2015 and early 2016 because of elections but that is now gone. We are seeing improved numbers as many clients continue to regain confidence in the economy. This year will be positive given that government is working on so many infrastructural projects. We are hopeful that the oil business will boost the economy and create opportunities for the hotel industry.
Hospitality and tourism are two close industries. Uganda has a good ranking when it comes to tourism potential. Has this notion realised any gains for the hotel industry?
It is true Uganda has a good ranking when it comes to tourism potential. However, we need to attract international travelers by highlighting on the tourist attractions in Kampala, in terms of restaurants, accommodation, lifestyle, religion, and related infrastructure. Once this is done and felt by the potential travelers, then, we in the hotel industry around Kampala will benefit. Uganda is a peaceful, beautiful, and welcoming country.
How do you deal with competition in this industry?
We work with our strategy to meet customer demands and satisfaction. And the most important thing in this industry is to create a difference in the services offered.
What major policy recommendations would you give to the government and the other players to boost the performance of the industry?
There is need for renewed focus on training and employee development in Uganda to improve service delivery and professionalism. The introduction of a well-funded full scale hospitality school with professionally qualified staff and facilities would serve a good purpose. Kenya and Rwanda have done this through partnerships with international schools. They have produced professional staff serving in important positions in East Africa and beyond. Uganda should do the same. I understand there is a school in Jinja, Eastern Uganda for this purpose but a lot needs to be done.
As a successful professional in the hotel industry, what advice could you offer to prospective young entrepreneurs?
Avoid fear in business, do research, keep trying, be innovative, and embrace new techniques, styles and methods of work. Be patient and flexible, embrace teamwork, and engage your customers all the time. These are general basics that must be embraced by all entrepreneurs on a daily basis regardless of the type and area of a business.