There are few experienced and well-trained coaches in hospitality service of Ayub Kato’s caliber. Especially in Uganda.
Here is a man who confesses to be irritated by poor customer service in hotels, restaurants, bars, among other places in Uganda he has visited. Ayub has embarked on a mission to train people who own and work in the hospitality sector, so that Uganda can take its seat at the table of men where the “hospitality” is true to its name.
On Monday morning, I met Ayub at a new hotel facility in Bugolobi, The athena hotel, where he has been doing staff training. As a hospitality coach, you could see his touch on the quality of service the staff at The athena hotel offer its customers.
The father of two does not need much introduction to many people who have watched his appearances on NTV Uganda and UBC, or read his profiles in dailies such as Daily Monitor and New Vision. However, a quick run through his CV points to a man who has rose from grass to grace. But his story also says that he is a man you can trust to coach you about the hotel business because he has done it all.
“I work only with brands that want to compete internationally,” Ayub, now married to Ronah Katusiime told me.
The 40-year-old started out as a security guard at Kampala Sheraton hotel, one of Uganda’s ritzy hospitality facilities. He was in his Senior Six vacation, when he got a spot as a casual guarding the gardens below the Sheraton Hotel. It is here he met the contact that changed his life.
Charles Musisi, one of the god fathers of Uganda’s internet industry and Ms Barbara Keating had organized an internet conference at Sheraton for Prime Ministers in East African countries.
“I was lucky I was deployed to guard their equipment over the night for two weeks,” Kato says.
At the end of conference, Charles and Barbara discovered that Ayub needed to further his education. The teenager had graduated from high school, but didn’t have money to continue to University. The duo who were opening a new office in Kampala, offered him a job as a cleaner and messenger.
“They offered me $400 a month,” Kato recalls. That was a great offer. He enrolled at Makerere University Business School for a degree in hospitality and catering services.
“I would work at Sheraton as a guard at night and during the day I was at Computer Frontiers,” Ayub says. “In the evening, I would be in class.” Computer Frontiers is the IT company Musisi and Barbara had set up.
That is how Ayub spent his three years. At the end, he got a chance to train at Utali College in Kenya. Utali is the best hospitality and catering school in East and Central Africa.
While at Utali, he met another contact which would change the course of his history.
“While at Utali, I met the president of American hospitality association. He had come to Nairobi to speak to Kenyan students about prospects of training in America at their academy. I asked him how Ugandans can come on board.
“He gave me a card and I kept in touch. One email led to another, and here he was inviting a group of us to go to US to study at the American Hospitality Academy”.
Kato says he was required to pay $1,000 which Musisi and Keating paid for him and before long, he and a small group of MUBS students were on their way to US.
Luck struck early because after three months, one of Marriott hotels, Residence Inn in South Carolina, offered him a position. He later moved to Hampton Inn in Baltimore Maryland as an executive house keeper and later as an assistant manager. He called it off after working with a 150-room Choice Hotels as a general manager in Washington DC, but not before earning them a Holiday Inn badge.
Returning to Information Technology
In the year 2011, Ayub wanted to return home after more than 10 years in USA. He contacted his benefactors at Computer Frontiers. Luckily, Musisi and colleagues had just won a sub contract to implement the US government’s e-visa system across West Africa.
“I got a job as project manager. You know IT service is about customer satisfaction. I was king in this area. So, I was stationed in Abuja city, Nigeria where I set up a call center serving 10 countries in West Africa.
“We pioneered e-visa in over 40 countries in Africa.” He said with lots of pride.
Kato who says he puts his heart, mind and energy in whatever he lays his hands on, revealed that it is while rolling out the evisa project that he birthed Smiling Faces.
“I realized that customer service all over Africa was so poor,” he says. I asked, “Why is the service so poor on our continent? I could do something about it.”
He was determined to offer hotel management, pre-opening training, service delivery, mystery shops, name it at the earliest opportunity.
“Smiling Faces is a service delivery company. We could train anyone from owners, managers, to the lowest staff in offering customer satisfaction.” Ayub says.
The man who joined the hotel industry as a security, and worked through the ranks to general manager in US where customer service is demanded as a right, is contemplating making Uganda a shining star in the hospitality business. I couldn’t let him go without sharing some tips on what hotel workers need to know about their business.
Here, he shares some of the things that hospitality facilities owners and workers should ponder about.
1. Treat every single guest as VIP. And, every single day.
2. Make training a priority as an every day activity for your staff. Not a one-time venture.
3. Provide customized service. By this, take the needs of every guest as personally as possible.
4. Create a positive start for new employees in your organization. Make their orientation very important and give them a home feel of your hotel.
5. Your employees’ should be part of your dream.
6. Take measure of customer care performance and satisfaction. Respond to every email or comment.
7. Update your technology tool box.
8. Tie your staff to your overall hotel performance.
9. Invest in your employees and make sure you get right ones.
10. Be hands on. Training must be practical. Walk through the lobby, restaurant or corridor to ensure no one is stranded or stuck about the service your facility has offered.
Ayub Kato, who can be reached on his mobile +256 788 611893 says, hotels where owners and managers do these things at their facilities, are doing well.
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