Building a Future in Rwanda’s Tourism and Hospitality Sector

Diane Mahoro is on the brink of success as she braces herself for the final year of her studies at Vatel Rwanda, an international business school for hotel and tourism management in Kigali.

At 20 years of age, Diane is pursuing a Bachelor in International Hotel Management. She is articulate and confident when she speaks about her career choice.

“I always dreamed of working in the hospitality industry, and I am currently living my dream to become an international human resources manager,” Diane Mahoro explains.

Diane believes that she belongs to the generation of young Rwandans who, in her words, will “build their own future in the international hotel and tourism industry.”

Diane Mahoro, Student, Vatel Rwanda

Diane Mahoro, Student, Vatel Rwanda

In partnership with the Mastercard Foundation as part of the Hanga Ahazaza initiative, Vatel Rwanda is providing internationally recognized degree programs in hotel management for young Rwandans interested in a career in the tourism and hospitality industry. Vatel also provides professional development programs for young people who are already employed in the sector and looking to upgrade their skills.

A Mix of in-Class Education and on-the-Job Skills Development

Hanga Ahazaza aims to improve the quality of services in the tourism and hospitality sector through a focus on both in-class education and employment skills development.  Diane has had the opportunity to intern at some of Kigali’s high-end hotels such as the Marriot Kigali, Kigali Serena Hotel, Onomo Hotel, and several others.

By providing both theoretical and practical skills through in-class studies and work placements the program will address the skills gap that exists in the tourism and hospitality industry in Rwanda. This approach has been tried and tested with the 33,000 alumni that the Vatel has trained for the international job market.

Diane was committed as she searched for a university that would provide her with the training she needed. To live out her dream, she ignored all the negative and discouraging factors and perceptions associated with the tourism and hospitality industry.

When she told her parents that she was directing her career in the hospitality sector, they thought she simply wanted “an easy course to study.” However, through her research, she quickly discovered that there were more than 1,500 job opportunities in this field.

Diane says her acceptance at Vatel Rwanda was, “a very memorable moment” in her life. “I began to realize that it was the time for me to shine, to pursue my career, and to live my dream. I began to see hope in my future,” she says.

Soft Skills Upgrade

Gisele Ikuzwe is another Vatel student and Hanga Ahazaza participant. She has found that the partnership between the university and local businesses is paying off.

“Hospitality is an open-door opportunity that provides the youth with the skills and goals that they need to thrive while at the same time contributing to Rwanda’s economic development,” she says.

Students are equipped with soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork dynamics, and confidence thanks to the collaboration between Vatel Rwanda and local hotels that creates opportunities for practical work-placements.

At 24 years of age, Gisele’s long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur specializing in the restaurant business, providing traditional Rwandan food to tourists. This, she says, would “increase the experience of tourists visiting the country that would like to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of our local food.”

Gisele Ikuzwe, Student at Vatel Rwanda

Gisele Ikuzwe, Student at Vatel Rwanda

“I grew up with the mindset that if you want something, you have to work for it. As youth, we need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and not only think of becoming job-seekers—you also need to have the mindset and responsibility to create jobs,” she explains.

Before her enrollment at Vatel Rwanda, Gisele lived and worked at a hotel in Yaoundé, Cameroon. She learned the basic operations of a restaurant business from her mother’s small restaurant. Additionally, she gained customer service skills through her work at a local Kigali supermarket. These are job experiences that she has not hesitated to add to her résumé.

Gisele speaks four languages, including English, French, basic self-taught Dutch, and her mother tongue—Kinyarwanda. She says the various opportunities to travel to different countries and the exposure to the various cultures has developed her linguistic knowledge.

“Communication is a main barrier in my work. You can imagine what it’s like to communicate with a guest who only speaks Mandarin, yet you have to serve them what they need,” she says. “While this is a huge challenge, I have learned to use basic sign language to communicate.”

“Rather than getting discouraged, I have personally decided to surround myself with people who speak other languages as I also learn Dutch during my free time.”

Gisele is most passionate about event management even though she is equipped to run general hotel operations. Like all Vatel Rwanda students, this approach to educational training allows for well-rounded knowledge of hotel work in different departments including: front office, sales and marketing, kitchen and restaurant, finance, and safety.

Through open dialogue with various private sector companies that need  Rwanda’s skilled youth, relevant internships have become available to students. This is a win-win for the tourism and hospitality industry in Rwanda.

Gloria Iribagiza is a freelance writer based in Kigali, Rwanda. For over 12 years, she has written for print media and contributed to various digital publications. She holds to the view that storytelling has the power to change people’s lives because ‘stories are the currency of the soul.’ Gloria believes writing provides endless discoveries for those who choose to view the world through the diverse perspectives of shared stories.