Ernest Wasake: Good afternoon Robert. I hope this finds you well, could you please describe your business and tell us a bit about yourself?

Robert Mudenya: Good Afternoon Mr. Wasake Ernest, glad to join you in this conversation.  I’m privileged to be associated with Stanbic Bank Business Incubator cohort four. My name is Robert Mudenya the General Manager of New Court View Hotel.  New Court View Hotel was established in 2003 with the vision “To be the first choice of hospitality in the Bunyoro Region”. The hotel is located in Masindi along Murchison park route with branches in Kinyara sugar factory and high-end restaurant and bar in Hoima. I am a hotelier by profession and training with 15 years’ experience in the industry.

Ernest Wasake: Why did you decide to participate in the training with the business incubator and how did you learn about the training?

Robert Mudenya:   I decided to participate in the training of the business incubator because of the very rich and appealing training content that was to be offered to SMEs. Upon realizing that as SMEs we do not get the opportunity to be equipped with this kind of technical information on how to run businesses, for me this was a chance to join. This content included topics such as; business ethics, financial literacy, bookkeeping, compliance and human resource management that would strengthen the business.  How I learnt about the business incubator training was from various sources. First was from a colleague that I had participated in another training called E360 on bid management. I had seen an advert in the newspaper and e-fliers on the WhatsApp groups. I also received an email that was sent to the company notifying us about the training.

Ernest Wasake:  So, tell us, what were the main learnings from the incubator training that you have integrated into your business?

The main learning to me was gaining deeper understanding on professional methods and ways of running an SME which was not the case before. The approach used by the Stanbic Business incubator provided me with hands-on learning experience and ability to implement knowledge from the different topics. Another main take away was the knowledge on oil and gas plus associated opportunities. I was able to learn how to position and prepare the hotel to cease the oil and gas opportunities through preparation of necessary requirements. In addition, I refreshed my knowledge on human resource understanding that it is one of the most important resources in the organization and should be factored into the organizational plans.

The training also expounded a lot on banking issues like identifying the key functions of banks/financial institutions, importance of establishing and maintaining a banking relationship, executing the basic key banking activities, take opportunities of the offerings from the bank and managing of business finances. The trainings also emphasized issues on keeping books of accounts, source documents, interpreting the financial statements (Profit and Loss, Balance sheet, etc.) this was beneficial to me because this area of accounts had mainly been left to the finance and accounts staff.

Ernest Wasake: Would you tell us, any specific learnings from the training that have helped you cope during the pandemic?

Robert Mudenya: There are a number learnings specifically that I took from the training that have helped us cope during the pandemic.

Obviously, you appreciate that the times and also of things have changed since COVID-19 pandemic especially for hospitality and hotel industry. It has been so devastating for me. The main learning was on the management of human resource, which required me to be very careful on what I do. My interactions with people who run businesses I noticed that most of them had to reduce their staff drastically. For our case this situation was handled differently thanks to the training from the Stanbic incubator. Notably, before the pandemic the hotel was employing over full time 100 staff, this changed to having some staff on part time basis hoping that when the situation normalizes, they would be reinstated to full time work. Our approach was to negotiate with the staff and we were able to strike a balance for the business to survive without losing the staff. We had meetings with all the staff to discuss the business difficulties and complications during this time and most of them were  able to understand the situation. Since they never wanted to lose their jobs, we proposed to them salary reductions and agreed to maintain linkage with the hotel. Another learning in this situation is about compliance. We acknowledge during COVID-19 the times are very difficult within our industry. Our business depended a lot on travelers and tourists going the Murchison falls National Park most of whom were [foreigners] travelling from Europe and Canada. But due to the travel restrictions and airports closing, this meant we were not able to sell meals, accommodation and other services that generate income and cash flow. This situation to the business led to compliance challenge for filing and paying NSSF, PAYE, local authority tax on time yet it is a mandatory obligation. Through the training we were advised to always strike a balance to remain compliant by at least working out a payment plan to avoid the risk of non-compliance. Bid management was also a critical learning to access more business through a highly competitive process. I was able to learn that the company needs to be strategically positioned to take advantage of available business opportunities to supplement on the income. In order to win bids and retain the clients this calls for professionalism, satisfaction of customer needs while strictly observing the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Ernest Wasake: How has your business coped during covid-19?

Robert Mudenya: My business, has coped during the pandemic by putting in place new measures. First, we have appointed one of our colleagues on the management team charged with responsibility to oversee the Covid-19 related issues. The in-charge ensures that staff are regularly trained and SOPs such as wearing masks, sanitizing surfaces and social distancing are followed. This is to ensure the staff and guest are safe at the hotel and gives the guests confidence to come back to the hotel.

Within this period of time, we have encouraged local tourism packages among our business partners for the nationals who are not able to go to the National Park. We suggested to them sites such as the Polish Church in Nyabyeya near Masindi town with a lot interesting history to learn. Another site is the Royal mile where King Kabalega of Bunyoro used to go hunting. It is a fascinating straight and flat path that goes in middle of the huge trees Budongo Forest Reserve. Bird watching in the forest and chimpanzee trekking. Other local visitors are also encouraged to visit the town and their ancestral homes.

Ernest Wasake: From your perspective, what needs to be done to help the tourism sector revive?

Robert Mudenya: From my perspective, what needs to be done to help the tourism sector revive, is to inform the population that the virus is contagious and mutates all the time. This means a call to discipline to all the sector players by observing SOPs as well as ensuring healthy living to control the spread. Secondly continuous awareness, sensitization and training is need for the staff and operators in the sector about COVID-19. Lastly the need to demonstrate to visitors that the facilities are safe and comply with the SOPs in order to win their trust to book for the tourism services along the chain.