International tourists, or even Ethiopians who may wish to have the experience of staying in a five-star hotel, now have a choice of five hotels in which to do so. Those with lower budgets and less inclination but who still need a starred hotel experience can make a selection down the line to one star. But how exactly were these stars earned and what exactly can a stay or non-stay hotel user expect for the stars? This is the subject explored by MIKIYAS TESFAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reporting (not from a five-star hotel room), but from engagement with the head of the assessment team and some of those awarded. The report dissects the hotel grading process and hopefully adds to the transparency of the process from which the stars were derived.
A new hotel opens in Ethiopia every two weeks, experts claim. This might sound like tourism development galloping along, but considering the rising number of tourists visiting the country, there is still a huge gap between supply and demand. According to a World Bank (WB) estimate, Ethiopia attracted nearly 700,000 visitors in 2013.
In light of this emerging dynamic and in the thrust to modernize the country’s hospitality industry, hotels in the capital city have recently been star rated.
Last week, Marriott Executive Apartments, Addis Abeba, owned by Sunshine Business Plc, was certified as the fifth five star hotel in a city dubbed the political and diplomatic capital of the African continent. Sunshine’s 45.5 million dollar property will undoubtedly contribute to the city’s drive to become a major tourist destination with a rising number of highly rated facilities to cater for and host tourists visiting the country for business, pleasure or both.
Marriott Executive Apartments’ star rating comes at a time when the government programme of hotel star grading, funded by the World Bank, recently reached a milestone with hotels in Addis Abeba receiving grading certificates for the first time in the country’s history of hospitality services.
Hotel grading is one aspect of WB’s Sustainable Tourism Development project being implemented with a 39.5 million dollar budget. The project, which has been ongoing in Ethiopia since 2009, is expected to be completed in December 2015. It aims to contribute “to the enhancement of the quality and variety of tourism products and services in targeted destinations so as to increase the volume of tourism, foreign exchange earnings and jobs,” the Bank’s website reads. As such, the project has four components pertaining to destination development, market development, institutional development and capacity building, and implementation support and results monitoring.
The process was part of this wider approach to promote and nurture the tourism sector in Ethiopia. The process, which took more than six months for assessment and reporting, cost 550,000 dollars, Gezahegn Abate, international & public relations directorate director at the Ministry of Culture & Tourism (MoCT) told Fortune.
The grading was a very comprehensive exercise, involving evaluation of 375 hotels in the country. Of the 95 hotels in Addis that were eligible for grading, 68 of them were awarded stars, explained, James MacGregor the Canadian head of the six-member assessment team which brought its expertise to the process. Other members of the team of experts from the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO) were, South African, Torrey Anderson; and four Irish experts, including Claire Gantry. The team is are said to have a combined experience of assessing more than eight thousand properties worldwide.
The evaluation, which took place across Ethiopia’s cities, was undertaken by thoroughly observing the criteria set forth, MacGregor told Fortune. However, only hotels in Addis Abeba were certified, with plans for a second phase in which the certification could be applied across the country to properties that meet the criteria.
Tadelech Dalecho, state minister for Tourism Sector Development at MoCT also underscored the meticulous attention paid to detail during the process. Accordingly, since December 2014 when the Ministry signed an agreement with UNWTO to conduct hotel star rating, the project went through a number of stages until the final outcome. She noted that an international consultant had drafted the standards by which the hotels have been assessed.
The draft standards were then tabled for consultation and discussion among various relevant sectors of the business including the Hotel Owners Association, government agencies such as fire and emergency services, food and hygiene, federal police and various businesses engaged in the hospitality industry. Once a broad understanding of the standards had been established, the draft was duly recognised by the Ministry of Science & Technology as the “Hotels Rating & Requirements & Classification” document.
A total of 250 different standards were contained within the 12 sections of the criteria, and these carried a total value of 2,249 points, which were finally converted into percentage points by which hotels earned their ratings of five to one stars, depending on whether they scored between 80pc, 70pc, 60pc, 50pc and 30pc respectively. A five star grade carries an exceptional pedigree of hospitality while one star suggests acceptable hotel standards.
The criteria are of international standards, MacGregor underlined, and include some emerging components such as environmental sustainability and utilisation of clean energy. The first criterion pertains to the property’s exterior and was weighted at 70 points. Among others aspects, it deals with the hotel’s building, grounds and gardens, parking and points of entry.
The second criterion is designed to assess and grade a hotel’s bedrooms which could earn a maximum score 317 points. In this regard, assessors evaluate anything from the bedroom’s decor to its spaciousness, availability of modern electronic appliances, quality of curtains, environmental control, lighting, mirrors, clothes hangers and bed linen. This category also takes into consideration access and security with standards on doors, such as the peephole, electric keys and safety chain on doors.
Carrying a maximum of 168 points, the third category deals with bathrooms. Assessors looked for the types, flooring, ceiling, walls, towelling, accessories and decoration while giving their verdict.
Not all guests who go to hotels rent rooms and as such, there is a criterion to assess public areas such as guest circulation areas, corridors, lounge areas, stairwells and lifts, carrying 200 points. Standards in guest services, decorations, furnishings, fittings, general atmosphere and ambience shaped the judgements of the assessors here.
The fifth category of criteria focuses on bars and dining facilities. If a hotel’s capacity in providing bar and dining services to its guests, along with decoration, table arrangement, dinner presentation, dinner quality and breakfast impressed assessors, it could earn a maximum of 285 points.
General Service is the sixth section of the criteria, worth 305 points. It evaluated services a guest receives at a hotel from the very start, and throughout the stay till checkout. A welcoming persona, friendliness, attitude and appearance of staff, reservation and check-ins, room service, laundry service, meal service, checkout efficiency, tourist information, communication and business facilities, all came into consideration in scoring this section.
Housekeeping and maintenance constitute the seventh category of the grading document. This section looks into material and equipment storage, attentive maintenance of guest bathrooms, public areas, public toilets, bars, restaurants and dining areas. Hotels with impressive housekeeping and maintenance stature could earn a maximum point of 165.
Hotels that offer their guests additional facilities such as business or conference amenities and leisure services can score up to 340 points. The hotel star grading document gives due attention to the climate and has included a sustainability category, carrying maximum points of 165. In this section, a hotel’s waste management, energy and overall business practice are scrutinized. MacGregor mentioned that there are only three hotels in Addis Abeba that use solar panels to harness clean energy from the sun.
Design and layout of a hotel’s kitchen, the tenth category, represent a total of 100 points as maximum score. The team leader noted that they had encountered hotels in the city, which should be shut down because of the poor conditions in which they are in serving their guests. He was amazed how such hotels, the numbers of which he described as significant, earn food and hygiene safety certificates.
The 11th category deals with safety and security. Here, everything from the security detail at the main gate to surveillance cameras installed in the hotel and its premises come into count. In terms of safety, assessors looked for proper fire safety and medical facilities to minimise injury to guests in the event of an emergency. Both MacGregor and Gezahegn noted that a number of hotels presented fire safety certificates while not possessing a fire escape in their buildings, highlighting the fact that some hotels have bribed their way into acquiring certification on false pretenses.
Lastly, the final category relates to staff facilities and training, which according to MacGregor is where the biggest problem facing hotels in Ethiopia is concentrated. As head of the team that conducted the hotel star grading in Ethiopia, he believes that most hotels in the country do not benefit from professional management.
As a tool to build local capacity, the grading process also envisioned transferring knowledge and skills to local experts who will carry on the work in a sustainable manner. Various experts, totaling 53 in number, drawn from the regions, Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa and MoCT, participated in a month long training organised by UNWTO on hotel star grading. The trainees participated in theoretical and practical sessions. Government authorities and the UNWTO experts are confident that the training was successful and that local expertise will be sufficiently competent to carry out hotel star grading in the future.
Grading the hotels produced some surprises for those who have been closely observing the process. A case in point is Hilton Addis, which has been rated as a three star hotel. One customer, who chose to speak on conditions of anonymity, told Fortune that she was not surprised by the result, given the services there. She said even the person assigned to usher guests from the airport was sleeping in his nicely decorated cubicle at the airport when she first arrived in Addis Abeba two weeks ago.
Another surprise following the grading was a virtually unrecognised property located on Comoros Street in Yeka Sub City. Tegen Guest Accommodation Hotel, which has 32 rooms, received a four star rating, representing excellent service. A modest property set in a tranquil enviroment with a refreshing garden, its location underneath Yeka Mountain gives guest the option of a city view or a mountain view. Tegen, which roughly translates as ‘shelter’ envisions and to a large degree fulfills its objective of becoming a sanctuary for guests through its family-friendly, health and environment conscious business approach. Mulatu Belachew, owner of the hotel is very satisfied with the grading result.
The hotel star grading process has been a step in the right direction for Ethiopia’s hospitality sector as it paved the way by meticulously applying its standards and criteria on the hotels evaluated.
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