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Hospitality training offers Mali’s youth the opportunity to work

Youth Employment

Is it safe?” Klaas Frens Luning wondered when PUM asked him to do an advisory mission in Mali. The political situation in Mali has been troubled for years and there is even a negative travel advice for some areas in Mali. The consequences for the local population are clearly noticeable, even though life on the street continues as usual.

Klaas Frens did extensive online research on the country, held extensive conversations with PUM’s country coordinator for Mali and decided to say yes to help an entrepreneur in Segou. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Around 18 million inhabitants live in an area almost 30 times the size of the Netherlands. Coups, civil wars, and political unrest have led to negative travel advice in a number of areas in the country. Most economic activities take place in the southwest.

A comprehensive advisory mission

The Associations Terres Jaunes is a training annex hotel in Segou, which gives Mali’s youth a chance to work. Through practical hospitality training young people learn all the tricks of the hotel trade. There is a great need for well-trained staff in Mali. There are regular requests from the capital, Bamako, even from international chains. Hotel Doni Blon, part of the Associations Terres Jaunes course, wanted to increase brand awareness and findability on the internet and especially on the leading booking websites. In addition, they also wanted guidelines to improve hospitality training and advice on structural changes to the hotel. Foreign tourism doesn’t really exist here, but domestic tourists are happy to find this beautiful place on the Niger River.

Upon arrival, Klaas Frens set to work energetically and gave interactive practical lessons to the students of the programme. The students were taught in different disciplines in groups every day. From the kitchen to reception and from service to cleaning rooms. Klaas Frens also registered the hotel at the well-known booking sites. Klaas Frens: “It took some persuasiveness and coaching to explain to the manager that it is really worthwhile to register the hotel at sites such as Tripadvisor and Booking.com. Hopefully, I have managed to convince him that the findability of the hotel outweighs the commission that must be paid if a room is booked through these sites.”

‘I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment’

“Every day I decided to make a detour of a few kilometers through Segou,” says Klaas Frens, “I played soccer with the local youth, visited the market, had a chat here and there and had to hand out high fives to the assembly line children who found me very interesting. I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment. I experienced the population as extremely cordial. I enjoyed all the activity on and around the river. In the morning, you see the women there with large containers on their heads doing the laundry in the river, which by the way was not too clean. The hotel is beautifully situated, but a large wall obstructed the view from the roof terrace on the river. I advised the manager to carry out a small renovation so that hotel visitors can enjoy the beautiful view from the rooftop terrace.

Mali is a special country. I hope the situation improves so foreign tourists also get to know the friendly population and experience the country. My next advisory mission for PUM is already planned. In June I will leave for Mali again, this time to advise a lodge near Sikasso.”

Klaas Frens Luning (53) has worked in the hospitality industry from an early age. For many years he was the owner of a successful restaurant in Ruinen, Drenthe (The Netherlands). In 2016, he decided to sell his restaurant and joined PUM to do volunteer work. This was his first advisory assignment in Mali.

Text: Gabrielle ten Bokkel Huinink

Video: Hannah Gutjahr