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Graft, politics loom over hotel classification

By | March 2nd 2010

By Philip Mwakio

Corruption and political interference could derail a planned hotel classification exercise that the industry has long been waiting for.

The exercise is to be carried out under a public-private sector partnership arrangement, with the Government incorporating private sector players in the team that will rank hotels and other establishments.

The results of the exercise will guide players in the hotels and catering industries to price their products and services appropriately.

It will also help enforce standards by the Hotels Regulatory Authority (HRA), including rules on hiring of properly trained and certified personnel.

Most hoteliers interviewed by The Financial Journal favoured the exercise, but had reservations over how thorough and representative it would be of the industry.

Diani Beach Resort and Spa General Manager Aman Bhandari. Photo: Philip Mwakio/Standard

Lodges and restaurants will also be targeted in the exercise meant to create standards for the hotel and catering industry.

The last such exercise was conducted in 2000, but was steeped in controversy after claims of bribery, when some hotels got higher ratings than they deserved.

It has been a free-for-all since, with some seedy establishments brazenly claiming to offer top class catering services.

Appeals by some leading hoteliers over what they felt were double standards largely went unnoticed.

Mr Aman Bhandari, the General Manager of Diani Beach Resort and Spa in Mombasa’s South Coast, said he hoped to see a higher level of professionalism displayed in the exercise this time round.

Compete fairly

"We have always called for professionalism when it comes to hotel classification, as we believe that having the right star rating against hotel establishments, will allow Kenya to compete on an equal footing with other popular long haul destinations," Bhandari said.

He said sector players in the multi-billion shilling hotel and tourism industries must support the exercise and make known any reservations they have, and their expectations.

Mr Alfayo Onyango, the General Manager of Plaza Beach Hotel in Bamburi, on Mombasa’s North Coast, added his voice to the concerns that earlier exercises were not conducted professionally.

"Such an exercise should be conducted in a transparent manner to enable each hotel have its true position," Onyango said.

He said with proper classification, prices or hotel rates would be rightfully charged as per their star rating.

He said the pool of professionals in the hospitality industry in Kenya must reflect the way classification is done.

"We are unmatched when it comes to right personnel in the hospitality industry not only in the region but globally," Onyango added. The Ministry of Tourism, through the Hotels and Restaurant Authority (HRA), announced that the exercise would begin next month.

"We are fine tuning the final logistics, but will hit the road running starting April," said Mr Elijah Kasati, a Principal Tourist Officer and secretary to the authority.

Professional assessors

The authority, under the HRA Cap 494 of the Laws of Kenya, is charged with the responsibility to review the standards of hotels and restaurants, issue licenses and classify the establishments among others in the country.

"Kenya has a pool of professional assessors who will henceforth undertake assessment and classification of hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities," Kasati said.

The Ministry undertook the training programme for the 25 public-private sector professionals drawn from the tourism industry in Kenya, as part of the process for implementation of the approved uniform Standards and Classification Criteria for the East African Community.

Institutions that were involved in the training programme launched by Tourism Minister, Mr Najib Balala last year, included the Catering Tourism and Development Levy Trustee (CTDLT), Kenya Utalii College (KUC), Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC), Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) and the Ministry of Tourism.

Others were Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO), PERAK ( Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya), Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), Kenya National Bureau of Standards (KEBS),The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) and the Ministry of Public Health.

The Ministry initiated a public–private sector partnership arrangement for the implementation of the East Africa Community Standards and Classification System in the interest of EAC Corporation and application of a Regional Classification Scheme.

This will go a long way towards achieving the goal of elevating East African Region as a single market destination.

In order to harmonize the Classification Criteria, the East Africa Community (EAC) partner States developed the EAC Classification Criteria that is applicable in all the Partner States.

"The objective is to build capacity for the implementation and sustenance of standards in the tourism sector of the East African Community. The EAC Standards Criteria provides for wider range of options which investors may choose to aim at – from Guidelines for ‘Approved’ establishments to Criteria for attaining five (5) Star Rating," Kasati explained.

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