Making Utalii College great again

You cannot go wrong by investing in the hospitality and tourism industry.

In Summary

•Established 47 years ago, the college has trained over 60,000 graduates from around the world.

•They continue to serve in the local and international hospitality and tourism industry.

Kenya Utalii College Principal and CEO Charles Musyoki/HANDOUT
Kenya Utalii College Principal and CEO Charles Musyoki/HANDOUT

Kenya Utalii College (KUC) is a leading African hospitality and tourism training institution.

Established 47 years ago, the college has trained over 60,000 graduates from around the world who continue to serve in the local and international hospitality and tourism industry.

The college opened its doors in 1975 and was established under the Hotels and Restaurants Act, (Cap. 494, Laws of Kenya) which has since been replaced by the Tourism Act, 2011.

The Star's Martin Mwita spoke to the newly appointed Principal and CEO Charles Musyoki, on his ambition and the future of the institution. 

Briefly tell us about yourself? Where you were born, age, schooling and career? 

My name is Prof. Charles Musyoki. I was born in Nairobi's Pumwani Maternity Hospital in 1967 before my parents moved to Kiambu county where I grew up, attended nursery school, primary and high school. I then proceeded to Moi University in Eldoret for my bachelors and masters degrees before joining Kyoto University in Japan where I graduated with a PhD. 

My Public Service experience spans over 29 years having joined Kenya Wildlife Service as a  research scientist intern in 1993. I rose through the ranks to hold various positions. I headed a number of departments. I was also director of national parks and reserves management, director of wildlife and community service, principal Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute and director general Kenya Wildlife Service. 

I am an author and I published two books. I have also authored and co-authored over 10 research publications and supervised five master’s students, three PhD students and one post-doctoral fellow. I am currently supervising three PhD students.

I speak five languages, three international and two native.

The Head of State in 2011 awarded me an Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) of Kenya commendation for accomplishments and contribution to Public Service.

 When did you join Utalii College and where were you working initially?

 I joined Kenya Utalii College in January 2022 from the Kenya Wildlife. 

What are the challenges facing Kenya Utalii College? 

Kenya Utalii College was established with assistance from the Government of Switzerland in from the early 1970s to the mid-1970s.  It was officially opened by Kenya's first President the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1976. 

Its design was customised to offer competency based courses in hospitality and tourism to support the growing tourism industry in Kenya and Africa. It was a first in Africa. No other such college existed and its design including teaching facilities essentially placed Kenya Utalii college ahead of its time. It was the pride of Kenya.

You will agree with me that Kenya Utalii College has not been doing well in recent years. It no longer occupies the same place it did in the hearts and minds of Kenyans. Public expectation of the college is not met. Many high school leavers of the current times are not aware of its existence. The question that many Kenyans ask is what happened to the Kenya Utalii College. 

The answer to this question is straightforward and in the answer to the question lies the solution. The success of Kenya Utalii College was its biggest undoing. Success is good but it can become an impediment when not well managed. So successful not only in Kenya but also in Africa and world over was Kenya Utalii College that complacency set in.   

As the operating environment changed, public aspirations changed, public tastes changed, technology changed and many facets of society changed, Kenya Utalii College did not align itself to the unfolding changes. The college continued transacting business just as it did in the 70s and 80s. Lack of innovation, lack of creativity and all the risks associated with unmanaged success conspired to relegate the college. As this was happening, competitors came on board with new technology, better ways of doing this, quicker ways of doing things, more efficient ways of doing things, and all these dwelt a big blow to Kenya Utalii College.

This is not unique to Kenya Utalii College. There are institutions that fell in the same situation. These include the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, Kodak, East Africa Industries among others. 

Luckily, for Kenya Utalii College it is not too late. For some of these other institutions it was too late. The reason why Kenya Utalii College survived is the strong support system it has. 

 Kenya Utalii College today finds itself in an environment that is radically different from that it was used to during the years when it was at its peak. This therefore calls for a change of tact, change of strategy, embracing technology, being responsive to the public, repositioning the brand, reviewing the curriculum and generally accepting that transformation is necessary for the college to regain it space.

 How did Covid 19 affect Utalii College operations? 

As a training facility that has a training lab that is a hotel, Kenya Utalii College was hard hit by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. For a start, we were closed for over a year. As a result, we shut down our campuses in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi CBD principally because the closure of training institutions meant we did not have the internal revenue generated from student fees ,to enable us pay rent for the premises where the campuses were. 

The Utalii Hotel that is open to the public was also shut down during the period of the pandemic further constraining the college.

 The main financier of the college is the Tourism Fund. Since all hotels were shut down during the pandemic, the Tourism Fund that relies on the 2% levy from hotels had its capital base paralyzed. 

The operations of the Kenya Utalii College were significantly affected as result of all these.

 We are however now open. The training is going on and the Utalii Hotel is open to the public but the effects of the long closure are still being felt. Government funding supports our operations. 

 How are you handling the Covid-related challenges?

Government support has been very instrumental in the recovery of the college after the pandemic. Government subsizes a significant proportion of the costs of student training. It also pays staff. Government pays overheads. The internal revenue generated by the college complements government support.

 How do you intend to turn around the operations of the college to make it profitable? 

The first thing we did was to rethink our strategy. We asked ourselves three basic questions, where is Kenya Utalii College, Where do we want to take it and how.

We devised a five year strategy that is going to transform the college, turn it around and place it on the global map. The plan is to make Kenya Utalii College the best hospitality and tourism training college in the world. We have settled on three pillars that will anchor our strategy firmly on a trajectory that will see a complete turnaround in two to three  years, and make us a global leader in five years.

 The first pillar is training. We will repackage the training curricula to adapt it to current times without compromising the quality of teaching and the quality of student learning. The curricula will be reviewed through a participatory and consultative process to produce a robust curricula that will make graduates of the college better equipped to handle the dynamics in hospitality and tourism. Skills and competency training will comprise 80% of the training while knowledge and theory will take 20% of student time. This will completely align our graduates to the needs of the industry.  

The second pillar is partnership. Utalii College will pursue strategic local, regional and international partnerships and collaborations to support and perfect its operations as well as graduate placements. The public private partnership model will be pursued to accomplish college objectives for growth and development of training programs.Use of technology and automating of all training operations is a key priority under this pillar. 

The third pillar is enterprise. Kenya Utalii College requires finances to undertake its training operations. The government currently provides a significant proportion of the operating budget. Under this pillar, Kenya Utalii College will fully optimize its revenue streams to generate revenue that is envisaged to in the first two years of the strategy support at least 50% of the college budget. The medium term goal is to generate sufficient revenue to break even.

 This pillar will also involve exploiting opportunities for cutting costs, savings and reducing the operating costs.

 The strategy is supported by five priority areas of focus namely, enhancing quality of teaching and quality of student learning, financial sustainability, repositioning the Kenya Utalii College Brand, research and consultancy, and staff development programs. 

Do you have enough budget to run the institution or will you request Treasury for more funding?

 The government provides an annual budget that is complemented by internal revenue generated by the college. The budget enables the college to meet its obligations but does not cover all that the college wishes to accomplish. That is why we are very keen at enhancing our internal capacity to generate revenue while at the same time convincing government and the Kenyan public that all the investment made at Kenya Utalii College is put int0 good public use.

 What’s your advice to Utalii Alumni and how best can they give back to the college?

The college has a strong alumni fraternity. Alumni associations world over have made significant contributions to their alma maters. I see a huge potential in a strong relationship between the college and the alumni association. The Kenya Utalii College Alumni Association is energetic and I plan to tap into that energy in the transformation of the college. Indeed, I have already invited the association to a meeting to begin a conversation on how to jointly work towards making the institution great. My vision for the alumni is to work with the college to develop viable avenues for successful activities that would support the college’s vision to become a global leader and a competitive center of excellence in training in hospitality and tourism.

What will you tell potential employers about Utalii? 

Kenya Utalii College still produces the best graduates in hospitality and tourism. Our graduates are well trained, skillful and competent. We continually offer refresher and management development courses to the industry. These courses polish our graduates to make them better in the performance of their duties. 

Your message to investors in the tourism sector ? 

You cannot go wrong by investing in the hospitality and tourism industry. The industry is recovering fast from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife has developed a new tourism strategy that refocuses the industry post Covid. Investors should peruse the strategy and align their investment decisions to the prescriptions contained in it.

 Your parting shot? 

Implementation of our five year strategic plan will definitely yield fruits to the Kenyan public and Kenya Utalii College will become great again.

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