Juba - “Yes, of course she can come!” was the bold reply from one of the hoteliers in Juba when asked whether his structure would have the capacity to accommodate the Queen of England if she were to visit the country.
His words highlight the confidence found in South Sudan’s hotel industry. Hotels in the capital have evolved from tents, containers and prefab structures to permanent buildings. They offer conference facilities, Internet connection, bar and restaurant services. Prices have also been on the rise: a night in any of the luxury hotels costs between $150 and $400.
Despite the boom, though, challenges abound, particularly in finding local staff. “We advertised for an assistant cook but nobody showed up with the right qualifications,” said a hotel manager.
One of the reasons behind the lack of local applicants might be cultural. As highlighted in a recent report by the US Institute of Peace, South Sudanese youth refuse to do jobs considered as beneath them.
Manual labour, such as serving in a hotel or a restaurant, is seen as diminishing and risks spoiling a boy’s reputation and marriage options, the report noted.
A girl working in a bar or restaurant is considered ‘spoiled’, meaning she is no longer a virgin. “Such work impacts a girl’s dowry price and marriage prospects,” according to the report.
The lack of South Sudanese who are trained and ready to do the work has forced hotel owners to hire foreigners, even for jobs such as waitresses and housekeeping staff.
Tejeaye Berele, general manager of Aren International Hotel, said they have had to employ workers from abroad.
“It is very expensive. The only hope is that they will help us train local people so that they can be able to take over their role in the near future”, he said.
But an official working with Sunflower Inn said on-the-job training is very challenging. “When trainees do something wrong and you try to give them advice, they can refuse and leave the job, warning that they will go to the labour office so that you compensate them.”
The hoteliers want the Government to establish an institute where local people can get proper training before they are employed in hotels.
“People need to be aware of professional ethics and customer care so they don’t quarrel with customers”, said one hotelier.
There is currently no public institution offering training in the hospitality industry in South Sudan. Those interested in taking this carreer path have to travel to Kenya, where a certificate course takes one year and a diploma course two years.
“For Kenyan nationals the cost is between $800 and $1,600 but it is higher for foreign students,” said Stanley Masha, a chef at Home and Away.
The hotel industry would probably be more organised if there were appropriate laws to regulate it. “I sent my staff to one of the hotels to collect information about the number of rooms, visitors and facilities but they chased her away,” said Akur Mawan of the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism.
There is no accurate information on the number of hotels in South Sudan, according to Daniel Dut, inspector of hotels in the tourism ministry. He said the information will be collected and the statistics made available once there is a law in place.
The Tourism Bill 2012 is still awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers before it can go to Parliament.
The Bill provides for the establishment of a government institution to train South Sudanese in the sector. It also provides for grading of hotels. Those graded one or two star hotels will fall under the state while those with three stars and above will be under the Central Government, said Mawan.