Serena Hotel Kampala, sends 89% of staff home; scales down operations as Covid-19 bites

Hardly a week after Uganda confirmed its first Covid-19 patient, Kampala Serena Hotel, one of Kampala’s largest and high-end hotels, has sent home 89% of its staff as it seeks to fend off the second wave of the Covid-19 storm, CEO East Africa has confirmed.

In a WhatsApp interview with this reporter, Anthony Chege, General Manager at Kampala Serena Hotel also confirmed that similar measures, had been taken at their smaller but more luxurious sister hotel- the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa, in Kigo, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

“The Covid 19 pandemic has been unprecedented and the global hospitality industry has never experienced an event of such breath.  As a result, countries have taken different measures to control the spread of the virus both internally and internationally by banning travel. Locally the government has issued directives restricting public gatherings which has negatively affected our business,” Mr. Chege wrote.

“As a result we have had to scale down our operations and have requested our staff to take pending leave and off days. We are currently working with a skeleton staff of about 50 from an establishment of 450 staff. This has also been done in line with the MoH’s directives to remain at home where possible to avoid exposure. We hope that the situation will stabilize soon,” he said.

He did not say for how long and or how many staff have been affected at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa.

CEO East Africa, also understands that Serena Hotels Africa has closed up to ten of its lodges and camps- five in Kenya and five in Tanzania. The temporary closure goes on up to June 15th 2020.

Mr. Mahmoud Janmohamed, CEO of Serena Hotels said the heavy-hearted decision had been taken to manage liquidity (cash flow) risks but also take care of their staff.

“Never in the 40-year history of Serena Hotels has any event of this breadth and scale impacted the global hospitality industry than COvid-19,” he said.

Today, the Ruparelia Group also closed four of their hotels- Speke Resort and Conference CentreMunyonyo Commonwealth Resort, Dolphin Suites, and Forest Cottages till such a time when the Covid-19 effects have cleared.

The Group’s Chairman and Founder, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia said that the Group would keep small sections of the other group-owned hotels open. Other hotels include Kabira Country Club, Speke Hotel, Speke Apartments Wampewo, and Speke Apartments Kitante.

Other hotels in the city like the Simba Group-owned Protea Hotel by Marriott Kampala and Protea Hotel by Marriott Kampala Skyz- are also in partial lockdown and staff are said to have taken pay-cuts as the situation normalizes.

Although it is hardly since Uganda confirmed its first Covid-19 patient on March 22nd followed by a raft of presidential directives closing down all of Uganda’s borders and all entertainment places, including hotel in-house bars, most of Uganda’s high-end hotels that survive on international travelers and business meetings were already beginning to feel the pinch. According to Susan Muhwezi, the Chairlady, Uganda Hotel Owners Association and Vice-Chairperson, Uganda Tourism Board, as of March 15, 2020, an estimated USD 2,089,129 (UGX 8 billion) had been lost in cancellations from only the top 5 city hotels alone.

The tourism industry is engaging the government for a stimulus package that includes tax deferments, the government negotiated bank loan repayment deferrals among others, but the government is yet to commit itself. The tourism industry says it urgently needs this intervention to stay afloat and keep jobs.

CEO East Africa yesterday, quoted Anne Juuko, the Stanbic Bank Uganda Chief Executive Officer saying that of all the sectors that have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis and are approaching the bank to renegotiate and or negotiate credit packages, the tourism industry is feeling the most heat.

The tourism industry is Uganda’s largest forex earner. At USD1.6 billion, tourism earnings in FY18/19 were bigger than the export earnings of Uganda’s leading 17 agriculture exports combined!

The sector at the end of 2018, employed 667,600 people which constituted 6.7% of all total employment. Worth noting is that the hospitality sector contributes up to 90% of all the jobs in the tourism industry with 58% of all jobs going to women and 77% of jobs to the youth- (18-30 years).

95% of the hotels are owned by the private sector and of these, 75% are owned by Ugandan private players, 13% by other African private players and 7% by other international players.

Source: The CEO East Africa