Swimming pool area The Lobby
[This article was first published in the NewTimes newspaper on 5th May, 2017]
Located right in the heart of Kigali City in Kiyovu is Rwanda’s new entrant to the fast growing Hospitality industry: Park Inn by Radisson Kigali is bursting with colours and promising some smart fun times – whatever the occasion. Whether you are there to attend a conference or a workshop or just catching up with friends and family, Park Inn – a 4 star international hotel – is not your conventional serious world class hotel.
The New Times’ senior writer Minnie Karanja spoke to Thomas Stene, the General Manager about this colourful fun smart place that is well prepped to take Kigali by storm. With more than 20 years of professional experience in managing hotels in Norway, Russia, Azerbaijan, Prague and Jersey, Thomas – a Norwegian national – is a seasoned hotel management professional. Although this is the first time he’s working in Africa, he is confident that now is the right time to invest in Rwanda and that the future is looking up for the hospitality industry.
Below are the excerpts of the interview.
KARANJA: What inspired Park Inn to tap into the Rwandan market?
STENE: Rwanda has created an excellent environment to do business and we are confident about investing here. Kigali is one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa and the political will to support investors is incredible. The country has also promoted itself as a MICE destination worldwide and with the National carrier Rwandair flying to more routes we expect to see more inbound flights and a vibrant tourist economy we can tap into.
A view of Kigali from one of the rooms. A superior room
KARANJA: Rwanda’s hospitality industry has grown by leaps and bounds and is rapidly growing as a preferred international MICE destination. What is Park Inn’s unique proposition?
STENE: Park Inn is all about adding colour to life. We are here to bring a unique lasting customer experience for all our visitors. Our aim is to ensure that Park Inn is a hotel where people come in for any occasion and just have some fun. We have invested quite heavily in training our staff to complement the infrastructure already in place. We believe that if staff are having fun at work, the customers will take notice of it and it influences their experience and decision on whether they want to come back again. Park Inn is where customers can come in expecting to meet happy staff that are motivated to be at work and are actually enjoying to be there.
A section of the all-day dining restaurant A section of the all-day dining restaurant
KARANJA: Please tell us more about the staff training program including the Women in Leadership program.
STENE: Our service model has been established through number one, identifying what experience we want the customer to have and what we want them to go away saying about their experience at the Park Inn. Secondly, we create a working culture that will help us deliver that particular unique and fun experience for the customer. Thirdly, we have a leadership that supports this good working culture and fourth but not least is processes that we have in place which bring everything together.
Our staff training program is therefore centred on giving customers that unique fun experience. The staff are taught how to engage respectfully with the customers and actually read in between the lines on whether the customer is interested in a little bit of friendly banter or would prefer not to be engaged in any conversation. We also empower them to make decisions without always having to refer to their managers especially for minor situations. This is a new concept to many of our employees but we want the staff to feel empowered to make decisions. For instance if a waiter spills some coffee on a customer’s shirt, we empower them to make a decision on whether to offer a complimentary coffee or offer to have the customer’s shirt washed on the hotel’s tab. While they may not always be the right decision but we appreciate if a staff makes a decision and it happens to be the wrong one rather than not taking any decision at all.
The Women in Leadership program is an exciting global program which aims at encouraging more women to take up managerial roles within Park Inn. It is the responsibility of general managers like myself to identify women in lower positions with potential to take up managerial positions and support them to take up the positions. For women with families and children we support them to have a healthy work-life balance so that they can be productive at work and compete equally with men. I believe that women are fantastic leaders they have qualities that men do not have. They have great people management skills and it’s really to the advantage of the company to have more female managers.
An evening view of the hotel
KARANJA: How is Park Inn supporting local talent and promoting Made in Rwanda products
STENE: We have a total of 160 employees of which 90% are local staff. We are keen to grow the talent of the young women and youth in Rwanda. We have partnered with local institutions such as Akilah Institute for women that has linked us up with a pool of well trained women in the hospitality industry.
We believe in promoting local products in countries where we have a presence. We are here to stay so it is important for us to be connected to the local community by utilizing local products in the hotel. We are currently buying fruit and vegetables locally and we have a lot of hotel interior décor that will be procured from local artisans. The uniform of the staff working in JJ night club is Made in Rwanda has the unique touch of African fabric.
We have also partnered with Question Coffee – a company that roasts and packages locally produced coffee – because not only do they have great coffee but we also get an opportunity to exercise responsible business. We are pleased to know that the small scale coffee famers who grow the coffee we use are going to get a fair earning from their work when we purchase their coffee.
The conference hall A meeting room
KARANJA: How else will Park Inn engage with local communities?
STENE: We want to be engaged with the local community as much as possible. We are definitely going to take part in the monthly Umuganda activities in various parts of the country as advised by the local authorities. We will be happy to meet with the people and give back to the community in various ways.
We also have a global Radisson initiative called Soap for Hope whereby we recycle left over hotel room soaps. We use a recycling machine which completely disinfects the soaps and creates new ones which are well wrapped just like new soap. We then donate the soaps to the local communities where many cannot afford to regularly buy soap.
Swimming pool area Gym facilities. The gym overlooks the swimming pool
KARANJA: What is your parting shot?
STENE: I invite everyone to come over at the Park Inn and have some fun!