Women In Travel & Tourism Section spotlights leading women in the African hospitality, travel and tourism industry. The Uganda Hotel Owners Association was formed and registered in May 2000, and is biggest hotel trade association in Uganda, with members hailing from different regions of the country. Our editor Martin Chemhere, brings you more in this Q & A with Jean Byamugisha.
Tell us which city and province you were born?
I was born 39 years ago in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Uganda, also known as the Pearl of Africa is found in East Africa.
Tell us if you have qualifications in tourism and where you obtained them and when?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management from Makerere University. I also have numerous post graduate certificates in Tourism Management from numerous international institutions.
When did you join Uganda Hotel Owners Association?
UHOA is the biggest private sector association in Uganda’s tourism industry. It’s also one of the oldest having begun in May 2000. I joined the Uganda Hotel Owners Association 12 years ago where I worked as Executive Secretary for 4 years, I then went to the UN for two years as Project Manager on a program to do with youth employment. I left to take up my current employment as CEO of UHOA, a position I’ve held for the last 7 years.
What is the total UHOA membership total like right now?
When I joined UHOA, it had 202 members. During my tenure as CEO, I have managed to grow the membership to 625 members as at December 2021 making UHOA the biggest private sector association in the tourism industry. Membership includes all accommodation facilities from 5 star lodges, motels, campsites, homestays and AirBnB facilities.
What was the motivation behind your joining UHOA?
There’s many reasons why i joined UHOA:
I love tourism, I enjoy tourism and I truly love this industry. Someone once said if you love what you do then you’ll never have to work another day in your life. I can confidently say, I’ve never worked since I joined UHOA because I’ve loved every minute of my job.
I love the opportunities that UHOA accords me that push my career advancement. Through working for UHOA, I have managed to expand my social networks and capital and this is something that not many jobs offer to their employees.
I love the opportunities that UHOA offers young women in my country. I was the first female CEO of UHOA and also the youngest CEO when I took over at the time, making me one of the youngest ever CEO’s in Uganda.
Personally how has it been at the helm of a national organisation like UHOA?
This has without a doubt been the best jobs of my life so far. This is a job that fulfills me both personally, spiritually and socially. It’s been amazing to see the association during my tenure as CEO not only in terms of members but financially and also through the different projects we have carried out to respond to national crises for instance the project funded by USAID to address the issues of HIV and AIDS among young people in Uganda, the Apprenticeship program for refugees in Uganda as well as the Employment program to try and address issues to do with youth unemployment in Uganda.
Explain to us your major achievements with UHOA?
Recognized as one of the 20 Best performing CEOs in Uganda in a national survey carried out in December 2018 and 2019.
Voted among the top 100 women in Tourism in Africa in 2017.
Uganda’s Top 40 CEO’s under 40 in 2018.
Voted as one of Uganda’s 50 most admirable women in 2020.
Growth of membership from 202 members to 625 members in a record 6-year tenure.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced or continue to face as a women in a tourism?
Perception: Many people still believe that a successful woman must have connections to get to the top meaning that as a woman, you must work twice as hard as a man to get your due recognition.
Few role models: 58% of all people who work in the hospitality industry are women and yet less than 5 % are in top management meaning that young people and especially young women don’t have many role models to mentor them as they grow in their careers. I cannot stress enough how much value mentorship adds to an ambitious young person.
Until recently, tourism in Uganda was looked as a course for “failures”. Many young people didn’t want to be waiters and waitresses or clean toilets because they despised the jobs. I am glad to note that I have noted a shift during my tenure as CEO. Now tourism is Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner, and 77% of all your hotel staff are young people between the age of 18 and 30.
What has been the support like from the Ugandan government towards the promotion of women in tourism?
We have received a lot of support from the Ugandan government towards the promotion and development of tourism in Uganda. Tourism is currently the biggest foreign exchange earner for Uganda. It’s also the biggest employer of women and the youth, second to agriculture. Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world and so the government pays special attention to industries that have a high absorption capacity for the youth. Promotion of women in the tourism sector is still very much a private sector initiative as more businesses have acknowledged that women sometimes make better managers than men if given the opportunity, case in point UHOA that has got their first female CEO and Chairlady for the first time in its history. However, government has created an enabling environment for this to be possible.
Do you think more women are taking the initiative to venture into and are well represented in tourism?
Yes, 100%! We are seeing more young women graduating in tourism and hospitality disciplines. More women are now managers of hotels. We have also noted an increase of female owned tourism businesses eg hotels and tour companies. It’s truly an exciting time for women working in the tourism industry in Uganda.
Tell us your family life?
I am the eldest of 5 children. Am blessed that both our parents are still alive and family is the most important thing to me. I make a deliberate effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I love to travel and am an avid reader of books.
What is your personal goal as a female executive in the tourism industry?
I am very cognizant of the fact that UHOA gave me a big platform through which I can create a difference especially for young people in the tourism industry. Am honored to act as a mentor to many young people pursuing the tourism degree in different colleges. It’s been an honor to witness the growth of an industry that was once considered one for “failures” to now being one of the most sought after industries, as well as the biggest foreign exchange earner for our country. My personal goal is to leave behind a legacy that shows all young women that women are just as good, if not better than the men in any field of their choice.
What drives you to wake up every day?
It’s easy to wake up every day if you love your job. I also joke that no two days are the same for me at UHOA. One week I could be in meetings all day every day, one week am in the field visiting new projects, another week am speaking at university colleges or international conferences. I love my job, I enjoy my job, I love the team I work with at the secretariat and most of all I love the confidence and trust that our Chairlady and Board place in me to do my job. How can I not love it? How can I not wake up every day looking forward to the amazing days and programs ahead?
What advice would you give to young or other women seeking to break through in hospitality and tourism?
First of all, you must be clear that this is what you absolutely want to do. Working in the hospitality sector is a calling, it’s a life of service, and one must have the personality and right attitude to succeed in this industry. One must also be trainable. The tourism industry is very dynamic, trends change faster than school curricular and so one must be ready to keep going for training to remain relevant to the needs of the industry. Most importantly, hard work is key to success in this sector. This is not for the lazy man or one who likes short cuts. You must put in the work and hours to grow in this sector. Above all this, remember to keep God front and centre of your life and your career will take off.
How has UHOA responded to the global pandemic?
UHOA like all entities was greatly hit by the pandemic. First thing we did was to lobby government and development partners for a stimulus package to help our members get through the pandemic and its challenges. This was successful. We also lobbied government to review that tax regime and this is till on going on but we are hopeful that it will be successful.
With the full reopening of our economy at the end of January 2022, UHOA is now providing numerous and robust training and refresher programs for all our members and staff to help them get back into their jobs. We already see the improvements and good signs of recovery for the sector and we are hopeful that we shall be back on our feet by end of the year, if we don’t get another surge in cases.
Where do you see UHOA in the next 5 to 10 years?
Wow!! The future is indeed very bright for UHOA and indeed the entire hotel sector. I see UHOA as a much bigger and more powerful association, one of the strongest associations in East Africa with regional offices. With the free movement of labour in East Africa, I see UHOA signing MOU’s with East African government to facilities the movement and exchange of hotel staff through East Africa. I envision the created of an East African Hotel Association that will jointly lobby for the development of big hotel projects in East Africa as well as jointly host international conferences (the way we do for football).