7 Key Areas for People Management in the Hospitality Industry in Africa


One of the major challenges we face in our industry is human capital development, particularly here in Africa. Imagine my delight at being invited to a workshop on Sustainable Tourism in Africa to reconsider employment and human capacity development for our region. For anyone working in this industry, this concern will always be in the forefront.

Indeed, I captured the title for this article from Professor Thomas Baum of the University of Strathclyde at a workshop I attended which was held in Johannesburg in September 2017 (By the way, the ‘P’ stands for people!).  A Newton Fund-sponsored event, tourism scholars from Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and the United Kingdom all gathered together at the University of Johannesburg for a gruelling week of presentations and, of course, the statutory tour of the sights and sounds of the amazing city of Jozi!

One of the key ideas that came through from the workshop was the need to find home-grown solutions to the challenges facing human capital development in the tourism industry in Africa. Now this bedrock idea germinated into several mini-ideas in my mind, like what are the issues that exist within the people space in tourism? What do human resource directors identify as their main issues? What do the employees themselves think are their issues? Middle management? Owners and investors? Think about it, by considering the different perspectives each stakeholder group might have, we create a mine of data that could provide the very answers we seek.

My thinking is that before we proffer ready-made solutions for how things could be made better, we need to spend more time digging and getting to the root of the matter. Sub-Saharan Africa is currently the largest growth market for hotels in the world. We need to think how to bring our people up to scratch to support this growth. First stop, what do the HR directors think?

Early December 2017, I organised a focus group discussion with three human resource directors from international chain hotels in Lagos. They shared their experiences and gave first-hand insights into their HR concerns. We concluded that people management for the hotel sector needs to focus on seven core areas:

  1. coaching employees to transit from a “job” mind set to a “career” mind set;
  2. reworking employment benefits schemes;
  3. refocusing on training and development;
  4. recruiting and retaining talent;
  5. employing for diversity;
  6. managing the organisational climate; and
  7. the critical role of management.

Each one of these concerns is a challenge in its own right, but holds the key for putting the ‘P’ back in tourism!

So this basically sums up what will be the focus of the series of articles that I will be posting over the coming year.  Looking at these core areas, we will explore where we are right now in terms of human capital development, and what we need to do in order to get to where we need to be.

I end with a quote from one of the HR directors:

“You have to be on the shop floor, helping the people…you have your HR coordinators who do the nitty-gritty work for you. But you, the HR Director, you have to be on the floor with the people, talking to them, encouraging them!”

This promises to be an exciting exploration of the deeper perspectives.  Hold tight!

Belinda Nwosu