I Am A Fine Hotelier, Thanks To Intense Training From Kenya Utalii College

Anthony Mbehelo, General Manager Utalii Hotel advises young people who wish to pursue a career in tourism to try as much as possible to have a mentor, and to carefully choose the institution to work for as this will have great impact in ones ethos.

Tell us briefly how you joined the College

I joined Kenya Utalii College by accident. I had always wanted to be a doctor, though I still became a “doctor” who treats through nutrition. I now believe this was my destiny. Immediately after sitting for my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, I boarded a train from Butere to try my luck in the city in the sun. The allure of the city was too much. I worked in a plumbing company, a building and construction firm and finally ended up in an electricals company.

While working with Oak Technical Company (power fencing & alarm company), we had a client in Muthaiga North who needed a house alarm system installed. On my way through Thika Road, I saw Kenya Utalii College signboard and my curiosity to know what the College had to offer grew.

My boss then, an Indian (Felix Miranda) of Goa descent remarked that if I was interested he would help me join the College. True to his word, he facilitated my joining of KUC in 1996. I owe him for whom I am today. God bless him.

How did you settle for a career in Tourism and Hospitality? Did you have other options previously?

I scored well in my O-levels and received an admission to study Pharmacy at the University of Nairobi. Unfortunately, I got the admission letter three months after people had reported to the University. I had an option to wait for one more year or engage in something else. I decided to join Kenya Utalii College on the first attempt for a diploma course in Hotel Management.

With the royal treatment I received after joining KUC, there was no way I could go to the University to pursue Pharmacy. Among the many luxuries; Boom (KShs.240) every month, room to self, three course menu every meal time, transport back home during College breaks, uniform, laundry for bed linen, work study programs and many other goodies. There was no way I could go to the harsh life at the University. In addition, since the tourism industry was booming at the time, I was focused on making a career in this field. Oh boy, life has been a roller coaster.

Tell us about your days at Kenya Utalii College – your experience with the lecturers, students, internships, events and exchange programs and the role they played in shaping your career and life?

I received a rude culture shock on the day I reported to the College. It was like my world had been turned upside down. From day 1, I had to learn very fast the three-course menu in the dining. I was paid to attend Industrial Familiarization Programmes. I guess I had “arrived”. The College was a world-class facility. I was tutored by some of the best brains in the hospitality whom I owe my success today. There was a general expectation that management students had to look and act the part and this reinforced our sense of responsibility.

Comrades of MA 96 will always be part of my life. I am glad we are still “tight”, 22 years after our graduation. We all turned out just fine.

What stood out the most for you at Kenya Utalii College?

The structure and design of the training system in producing a fine hotelier stood out. No effort was spared to produce one. Within our curriculum, third year management students were expected to plan and execute a food fair as well as develop and operationalize a new hotel from scratch. This was an eye opener. The College Management spared no cent to make these events not only a learning process but also their execution a success.

In our turn, I was selected to lead the Hotel Management class in delivering a memorable food fair which we christened “Uhondo Africa”. We threw in all we had learned to make it a success. I am not sure if any food fair that was held after us could match.

Tell us about your career journey and success story.

While on our final attachment, I was recruited by Block Hotels to join their management training programe that took me to Nyali Beach Hotel, Indian Ocean Beach Club, Landmark, Lake Naivasha Country Club and Keekorok Lodge where I was posted as an Assistant Lodge Manager. I later joined the Great Rift Valley Lodge (Green Park Golf & Resort) as an Assistant Lodge Manager, then Boma Hotels (then Redcourt Hotel) as a Food & Beverage Manager. I have been privileged to work for Egerton University and Maseno University as a Hotel Manager in their establishments. I am now at Utalii Hotel, giving back to my alma mater. Currently, I am on the path to setting up my own Hotel.

In all the places I have worked, I have learned that you don’t have to be “nasty” to be an effective manager. That after all, we are all humans. I have also reminded myself that to get to where I am, I was helped by someone who was neither my tribesman nor belonged to the same race, therefore whatever I can do to help, I will always extend that hand.

In addition, I have learned that it is people that make an institution, not buildings. Therefore, the lowest denominator for your success as a leader is how you treat your team.   

How did the studies at Kenya Utalii College impact you on your journey?

The culture and curriculum at Kenya Utalii College is tailored to produce a fine hotelier. However crude you come in, by the time you leave, you should have been cultured to live by the clarion call “utumishi na ukarimu”. The College inculcated in us a sense of family. Wherever I go and meet any alumnus, he/she is family.

A Message to our young alumni and aspiring tourism and hospitality students?

As you begin a career in the tourism industry, try as much as possible to have a mentor. The choice of an institution/person to work for/with has a greater impact in your ethos as you progress. A wrong foundation would take greater effort to undo, so choose wisely.

Secondly, there are a lot of opportunities for serious workers. Make a deliberate decision from the beginning that you will do all that is humanly possible to supersede guests’ expectations and watch as you become a magnate to potential employers.

Thirdly, there are no shortcuts to the top. It takes perseverance, sweat, many late nights and early mornings to be refined to the levels that your seniors are at. Work for it.

Fourthly, when you fail or get fired, learn from it and improve. There is a whole future ahead of you.

Finally, don’t stop learning. Go back to class, read journals, watch anything and everything that improves you. That knowledge will one day find use.

March 1, 2022

Well said ,so inspiring

March 4, 2022

Thanks for sharing the text. It has got more of what it takes for one to be successful in his/her career.

March 4, 2022

Thanks for sharing the text. It has got more of what it takes for one to be successful in his/her career.

April 14, 2023

Great insight

Ian Wefwafwa ianwefwafwa@gmail.com

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