Kenyans find hotel jobs in foreign StatesWednesday February 08 2023
When an opportunity to work in Uganda as the general manager of Crystal Lodges arose, Patrick Wachira did not hesitate.
His job in Tanzania had ended and the Covid-19 pandemic had stalled the tourism industry. There was little chance that he would get a job in Kenya.
He started scouting for job opportunities in other African countries.
“Uganda is the pearl of Africa and there are many opportunities here in the tourism industry,” he says.
He now oversees Crystal lodges which comprises Crater Safari Lodge in Fort Portal, and Gorilla Safari Lodge in a facility in Kidepo National Park.
One of the lodges sits at the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a lush jungle in Uganda.
A new workplace can be exciting — but not when your first task is to grow the business during a pandemic.
Mr Wachira reported when most hotels were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions and when they reopened, it was tough to convince domestic travellers to stay in lodges.
“It was not easy to market the lodges and to get Ugandans to come to a five-star hotel and spend a night or two. Most days we would stay without a guest,” he says.
However, when travel resumed, tracking the chimpanzees in the Kibale Forest and trekking with gorillas in Bwindi moved to the top of the bucket list of most travellers.
They come in droves to watch the wild gorillas, forest elephants and bird species in the area.
Working outside the country is a great opportunity to explore and gain experience, Mr Wachira says. He advises Kenyans to seek out opportunities and investments abroad.
“There are a lot of opportunities for tourism in Uganda, especially for those who desire to invest in the industry. There are national parks like Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth, and Kibali where they can earn good money. Even those who would love to start colleges for five-star hospitality training colleges can make money here. The training is not at the same level as it is in Kenya. There are also plenty of opportunities to work in the industry,” he says.
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Dixon Ndichu, another Kenyan, got a job in Burundi as an executive sous chef, also during the pandemic.
“I used to run my consultancy firm, Dixon Culinary Consultancy. During the pandemic, I closed it, It was barely three years old. Luckily, friendship and networking in the hospitality industry paid off. I got an opportunity in Burundi through a friend,” he says.
After finishing his paperwork on September 7, 2020, Mr Ndichu started work at Kiriri Garden Hotel in Bujumbura, Burundi. There is the good and the bad side to working abroad as Dixon notes.
“Burundi is quite small and densely populated. People are friendly and welcoming. The cost of living is way more manageable and affordable than in Kenya,” says Mr Ndichu.
Kiriri Garden, a four-star hotel, is one of the best in the country. Mr Ndichu says he interacts with the who's who.
However, working abroad, with people from different cultures and varying levels of expertise, comes with its challenges.
“There is a lack of education which means that most people are not exposed and don’t have professional skills. This has made dealing with staff to be such hefty work, more mental than physical. The language barrier is another challenge as most of the population speaks in the native language Kirundi,” he adds.
Another thing is that the country is still healing from trauma which has made people suspicious of foreigners. There is also a challenge when it comes to investing back home.
“The country is forex contraband making it illegal to trade with dollars. Consequently, it’s hard to invest or send money home. This is also the case with credit cards; the local currency Burundian Francs cannot be accessed outside the country even when transacting with a credit card and conversion is not allowed either,” he says.
However, Mr Ndichu advises Kenyans not to fear working abroad.
“Anyone willing to join a hospitality firm outside Kenya would have the best opportunity to grow their career as they say if you do not travel you would have an assumption that your mum cooks the best food. Go out and explore,” he says,
When it became hard to get a job in Kenya, Elizabeth Amolo Ouda sought work in Uganda as a front office and assistant general manager at Rushaga Gorilla Lodge.
“A bishop told my sister [who lived in Uganda] to look for someone to help him run his homestay as he was transforming his home into one,” she says.
She started working at the homestay but quit after months of non-payment. She now works at Rushaga Gorilla Lodge, a luxurious rustic hotel nestled in a dense forest.
For the six years that she has been working in Uganda, Ms Ouda says that while Uganda and Kenya are the same in many aspects, the cultures are different.
“Opportunities are a lot over here. Everywhere you go you’ll find a Kenyan employee and Ugandans love employing Kenyans. They say that one Kenyan can do the job of five Ugandans. Many new lodges are coming up,” she says.
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As a tip for working abroad, she urges Kenyans to be patient and cognisant of other people’s cultures.
“Working abroad is nice especially when you find an employer and people who will appreciate your work and understand you. When you go to Rome do what the Romans do. Be tolerant and flexible and proactive and always know that you are not at home and things might not be easy,” she says.