UTB embarks on classification and rating of hotels in Uganda

Saturday March 21 2020

Management of Ikoro hotel located in Kisoro

Management of Ikoro hotel located in Kisoro District is looking forward to the new classification and grading. PHOTO BY ERIC NTALUMBWA 

By Eric Ntalumbwa

Edison Ricky Birungi, a tour operator of Encounter African Safaris, stopped giving business to a lodge situated at the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. His decision follows complaints from his three clients about poor service quality at the facility and its low standard, contrary to how it positions itself.

“The lodge is marketed and rated as a three or four star. Despite having a postcard view and nice cottages, the clients were not impressed with the quality of meals and were not able to communicate with their families due to poor internet connectivity. The management of lodge was not able to respond to the needs of the clients.”

False grading
Most classifications take into account the quality of the infrastructure, which is more easily quantifiable, but overlook the quality of service that is more subjective to measure but critical to the quality of hotels.

Most accommodation facilities in Uganda grade and classify themselves which is often misleading since they are not able to deliver what is promised by implication from self-grading. A great guest experience is often formed from what is seen and received, not what is promised, hence a mismatch in the grading and standards.

Relevance of classification
The star grading system is used to rate the quality and standards of services of hotels and this varies from country to country. Hotels are graded from one-star to five-star basing on factors such as facilities, service level, location, staff professionalism, among others.

Some hotel ratings have been questioned over the years, and that is why government, through Uganda Tourism Board, plays a watchdog role to grade and classify as part of its mandate to regulate both the travel and tour businesses and the commercial accommodation in Uganda.

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Regulating tourist services
Among other roles, it is tasked with the inspection of all tourist services and facilities to ensure conformity with international standards.

The quality assurance manager of UTB, Samoramachell Semakula, says classification addresses some of the existing gaps in the services that the hospitality sector offers. “It assures the clientele of high standards of services as well as acting as a marketing and promotional tool.”

According to the Uganda Tourism Association chief executive officer, Richard Kawere, if a facility is given a star, it eases its marketing and guests will be given the right information about the establishment, thereby reducing disappointments. As a result, the hotel industry flourishes leading to guest satisfaction, repeat business, referrals and customer loyalty, among others.

Classification long overdue
To classify accommodation facilities, the East African Community (EAC) Hotel Classification Criteria is used and the exercise is conducted by EAC certified hotel assessors. According to EAC community standards, the exercise should be conducted after every two years.

However, there has been a long lag since 2015 attributed to change of management and budgetary constraints at the marketing arm of government. But Semakula urges hoteliers to prepare for the forthcoming exercise.

Improving standards
“In a bid to raise standards in the hospitality industry and compete favourably in the region, it is likely that some hotels will fall short of expectations and lose their ratings. Others might maintain and some may redeem their status.” He urged hoteliers to subscribe for licences which will guarantee inspection and classification.

“Hoteliers are required to pay Shs300,000. Shs200,000 is for registration and the Shs100,000 is for the annual licence fee. The money goes to the government consolidated fund, but is used to support the training of hotel assessors and the inspection of accommodation facilities,” says Semakula.

Training and certifying
UTB will conduct an intensive and robust training of assessors for Ugandan Chapter Two from April 15 to June 19. A team of 30 hotel assessors from public and private sector institutions will undergo an eight-week training on hotels and restaurants standards within the East African region.

EAC trainees will not be limited to Uganda but also will be assessors in other EAC partner countries. The training programme is organised by the EAC Secretariat in collaboration with Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities(MTWA) and Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

Grading process
UTB chief executive officer, Lilly Ajarova, says the skills acquired from the training will enable trainees to improve the standards of hotels and restaurants in the region and also boost the management of the classification and grading process.

“The training will enable the team to understand the classification assessment techniques applicable in the EAC region. The trainees will learn how to assign the star rating methodology and the professional code of conduct while undertaking classification assessment,” she adds.

Criteria reviewed
Uganda Hotel Owners Association chief executive officer, Jean Byamugisha, is optimistic that the exercise will improve the hotel industry.

“It is good that the grading and classification criteria was reviewed and more people will be trained to assess more than 3,800 hotels as per Ministry of Tourism data.
But Uganda Bureau of Statistics says we have more than 6,000 accommodation facilities, majority of which are not graded and classified.”

Tourism stakeholders
Mark Kirya, the president of Hotel General Managers Association Uganda (HOGMAU), says classification and assessment exercise is timely and will improve sales of hotels in the region.

“It identifies facilities and categorises them into star-ratings. It gives the national, regional and international clients a better understanding of the select accommodation facilities that befits their service requirement levels and budgeting.”

Maintaining standards
Kirya, who also doubles as the general manager of Eureka Place Hotel and Suites in Ntinda, argues that continuous inspection of hotels and restaurants will enable hoteliers uphold and maintain standards, which will provide consistency to tour operators selling destination Uganda and enhance quality

Outdated classification
In addition, Jean Byamugisha of UHOA says the exercise will put an end to the debate about comparisons of star rating of hotels in Uganda, EAC region and international market to a halt, since the previous classification is outdated.

“This will regulate the industry and deal with entreprenuers who wake up and turn their rooms into a hotel, advertise and attract guests who are robbed of their hard-earned money, plunging the entire hospitality industry into disrepute. Grading is going to create order, classes and levels, facilitate pricing and assist policy makers in regulating and quality assurance,” he adds.

Transparency
Meanwhile, a section of tourism stakeholders have raised concerns about the integrity of inspectors. “Aren’t they going to take a bribe and accord stars unnecessarily? I don’t trust Ugandan officials. They might end up giving 5 stars to a ridiculous service,” said a one Kasozi.

Semakula, the quality assurance manager of UTB, says the exercise is robust and will be monitored 24/7. “Every establishment which is visited for assessment shall be assessed by at least three inspectors, who will be accompanied by a senior member of management of the accommodation facility or restaurant.”
He adds: “We are working with people of integrity both in government and the private sector. The process will be digital; we shall use the e-classification software to capture data before we grade.”

Results appeal
According to Uganda Tourism (Classification of Accommodation Facilities and Restaurants) Regulations, 2014, a person who is not satisfied with the results of the classification exercise, may, within 14 days from communication of the results, write to the board, seeking clarification on the unexpected classification outcome. Meanwhile, a person who requests for reclassification under the sub regulation(1) shall meet the cost for the reclassification.

Classification procedure
The Uganda Tourism Regulations, 2014 under section 34 of the Uganda Tourism Act, 2008 interprets accommodation facility to include a town hotel, vacation hotel, lodge, villa, cottage, serviced apartment or motel.

Semakula illustrates the standards for classification of a town hotel which by definition is an establishment located within or near an urban centre or area, where the majority of clients are business travellers.
Town hotels regardless of the stars, should operate 24 hours, have foreign exchange services and have at least 10 lettable accommodation units.

However, other factors create variations in star classification and these include: location, minimum size of public rooms, function rooms, restaurants, interior decor, menu, kitchen, guest rooms, guest bathrooms, suites, concierge services, hygiene and sanitation, safety and security, sundry services, human resource, among others.

Front office staff in one and two star should communicate in English and Kiswahili, whereas 3,4,and 5 should do the same, but the head of department and some staff must know at least one foreign language.

What they said

“This training will enable the team to understand the classification assessment techniques applicable in the EAC region. The trainees will learn how to assign the star rating methodology and the professional code of conduct, while undertaking classification assessment.” Lilly Ajarova
CEO, Uganda tourism board

“We are working with people of integrity both in government and the private sector. The process will be digital. We shall use the e-classification software to capture data before we grade.” Samoramachell Semakula-
Manager Quality Assurance, UTB

“This will regulate the industry and deal with entreprenuers who turn their houses into a hotel, advertise and attract guests who are robbed, plunging the entire hospitality industry into disrepute. Grading will create order, regulate pricing and ensure quality assurance.” Jean Byamugisha-CEO Uganda Hotel Owners Association

IF I WAS TO STAY IN A 4-STAR HOTEL IN UGANDA...

...It would definitely be...

Protea hotel Kampala.
“Stayed here for three nights. The rooms are spacious and the beds are comfortable. There were friendly staff and a variety for breakfast. It is a good hotel for a solo traveller or family. I would recommend it to a friend. The only thing that the hotel should upgrade are the shower rooms.”
[Evelyn, Kampala]

Hotel Africana
kampala. “It has a reasonably central location and is close to a golf course for those enjoying a morning run. Great backyard area. Friendly service and professional staff made my stay enjoyable. Nice breakfast and good dinner selection plus WiFi. You can sit and work here.”- [Eirik, Norway]

Igongo Country Hotel
Mbarara. “The rooms are spacious and well stocked. We had made a last minute reservation and the staff were quite accommodating and friendly. Their breakfast is better than their dinner. We arrived at 11:30pm and the kitchen was open. The chef prepared our individual meal request.The only problem is the showers are not that warm.” [Tabbz, Uganda]

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