Uganda at odds on hotel stars

The  failure by the government to classify Uganda’s accommodation facilities has been cited as one of the bottlenecks which could affect the tourism industry.

Not long ago, it was revealed that the government has not provided enough money for the hotel classification exercise to be completed.

This followed an agreement by the East African Community on a criteria for grading hotels and other public accommodation.

In a recent meeting, individuals and companies in Uganda’s industry generally agreed the country could a lot of revenue if hospitality service providers  are not graded. This is because this tends to turn away tourists and worldwide, hotels are classified in some way. 

“We have many hotels in Uganda. But who knows their classes? This why some hotels owners are cheating our clients because the country has no information about the standards of the hotels in the country. How will Uganda compete with its neighbouring countries in the East Africa Community where hotel classification has been conducted like Kenya?” Mike Ssematimba  the spokesperson of the Uganda Safari Guides  Association queried.  

He said the failure by the government to classify Uganda’s hotels has made it difficult for the tourism sector to come up with standard charges. 

Hotel classification was supposed to be done as far back as in 2007 in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

However the government through the tourism marketing agency, Uganda Tourism Board, has been postponing classification on regular basis.

Innocent Asiimwe,  the Quality Assurance Control  Officer at UTB told the East African Business Week the whole exercise has been sabotaged by the lack of funds to enable the 16 trained assessors  to carry out  the job.

Worldwide hotel classification is not a clear-cut issue. According to industry sources star rating systems can vary from global region to global region, country to country, and in many cases even within countries.

And there’s further disarray about which star rating denotes the best of the best.

The four-star ceiling of old has given way in some places to a five-star rating – the promise of ultimate luxury. But recently this has been usurped by six- and seven-star ratings for hotels in Europe and the United Arab Emirates.

There are even rumours of a 10-star hotel planned for somewhere in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, apart from classifying hotels in the country the tour operators want the government to also come up with training standards in their tourism and hotel institutes. In this way graduates from such institutions  will be able to meet the international standards.

“Currently we have two national recognized institutions training hospitality services providers in the tourism industry. But what kind of curriculum are they following  to see that Uganda  tour operators hotel chefs  meet the standard like their friends in countries like Kenya?  That is why you find that most chefs operating in majority of Ugandan Hotels are foreigners,”  he said.

On a proposal by the government for the tour operating associations to form a federation of tour operators instead of an association,  the tour operators in their meeting  said lack of financial and human resources cannot allow them to implement the proposal for a federation. 

Deo Lubega member of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and also a member of the Uganda Travel Agency said the majority of registered members of the Uganda Tourism Association are still too financially squeezed. Others don’t have the expertise to run such a federation 

  “Federation means members must have both human and financial resources. We cannot talk about member’s federation when currently some members cannot afford to pay association fees. The majority of the UTA members cannot raise Ush100million approximate $40,000 annually now. Where will the money to fund the federations comes from?” he asked.

The government, in a new proposed 10 year Master Plan want Uganda Tourism Association become a federation.

The government thinks this can attract more interest in the tourism sector as compared to an association. 

 Although the members refused to federate the Association President, Herbert Byaruhanga asked for suggestions for income generating projects to support their activities.

 “The tourism sector is private sector driven. There’s no reason why we can’t buy our tour vehicles and construct cottages near the National Parks across the country since there’s big problem of accommodation in some parks. Such projects will help the Association to generate more income for the members in the tourism sector and also creating jobs for our members,” Boniface Byamukama, the Chairman of Association of Uganda Tours Operators said.  

In response Byaruhanga said, “At this moment, as tourism managers, we are collecting views from our members, but all their views or concerns will be addressed by the responsible organs in the government. If the government does not solve the above mentioned challenges like hotel classification then the sector will be left in the hands of price speculators which is bad for the tourism sector.”