Hospitality Across Continents

Person holding a smartphone playing the Skift Meetings Podcast, Hospitality Across Continents episode featuring Gerrit Jessen

Skift Take

From the bustling streets of Berlin to the remote town of Nebbi, Uganda, Gerrit Jessen’s journey reveals how expertise and passion can transform hospitality standards in even the most challenging environments.

Gerrit Jessen, Director for Germany of the Event Design Collective, shared insights from his extensive career in hospitality and events. Jessen’s most recent project was a pro bono mission in Uganda, where he applied his hotel management expertise to improve the operational standards of a small hotel. Despite unforeseeable challenges and dealing with manual processes, Jessen focused on making the best of his time there to leave a lasting impact.

After graduating from hotel school, Jessen transitioned from food and beverage roles at hotels to becoming the convention services director at Berlin’s largest convention hotel. Driven by the surge in corporate meetings post-Berlin Wall, Jessen co-founded a Destination Management Company (DMC) in Berlin, which he successfully ran for 16 years before selling it to the MCI Group. He remained with MCI and its sister company, Ovation Global, for more than ten years. Jensen has since taken on various consulting roles and is now mainly focused on leading the German-speaking training and consulting for the Event Design Collective.

Several standout events mark Jessen’s career. For example, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he organized a corporate conference at the historic Cecilienhof Castle, the site of the Potsdam Conference. Another highlight was the MasterCard final event during the 2006 World Cup, which featured soccer legends Pele and Beckenbauer. These experiences highlighted his mind shift from the execution of live events to considering how events provide strategic value.

Jessen attributed much of his success to active involvement in industry associations like MPI. He stressed the importance of investing time in volunteer roles to build networks and gain recognition. This involvement enhances personal growth and opens doors for business opportunities. Jessen advises aspiring leaders to engage actively, be willing to take risks and embrace leadership roles within industry groups.

Pro Bono Mission in Uganda

Recently, Jessen took his volunteering to a new level by participating in a pro bono mission in Uganda through the Senior Expert Service (SES). This organization matches experts with projects worldwide that can benefit from their skills. SES selected Jessen for a mission to the Satellite One Hotel in Nebbi, a remote town in the West Nile region near the Sudanese border.

Upon arrival, Jessen faced several challenges. The hotel’s operations were reminiscent of the late ’70s and early ‘80s, with most processes conducted manually due to unreliable electricity and limited IT infrastructure. For instance, essential tasks like stock management and guest check-ins were done on paper, and the hotel’s few computers were not networked.

Jessen’s approach was pragmatic. Understanding the limitations, he focused on foundational improvements that could be sustained after his departure. One of his primary objectives was to enhance hygiene standards. The simple introduction of a stainless steel table in the kitchen – which was built rather than bought – was the key to separating clean and dirty dishes and significantly improved operational hygiene.

Sharing Hospitality Expertise

Additionally, Jessen tackled inventory management, a crucial aspect of hotel operations. He implemented an Excel-based system to help the storekeeper track stock levels more accurately and introduced the concept of minimum and maximum stock levels to prevent shortages. These changes aimed to ensure that the hotel could maintain consistent service levels without the frequent interruptions previously caused by stock rupture.

Another significant aspect of Jessen’s mission was educating the hotel’s staff on cost analysis. He worked closely with the kitchen staff to calculate the food cost for each menu item, a previously non-existent practice. Jessen enabled the hotel to identify and promote high-margin dishes, thus improving profitability.

Jessen also addressed the communication gaps within the hotel’s management. He recommended changes to align the general manager’s and key personnel’s efforts. This included creating an organizational chart to clearly define roles and responsibilities and fostering better teamwork and accountability.

Overcoming Challenges

Nebbi’s remote location added an extra layer of complexity. Jessen had to adapt to a significantly different pace and style of operation compared to the bustling environments found in Europe or the U.S. Despite the challenges, he found the experience rewarding. He emphasized the importance of not imposing solutions but rather adapting them to fit the local context and capabilities.

Reflecting on his mission, Jessen highlighted the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone and leveraging one’s expertise to make a meaningful difference, even in unfamiliar and challenging environments. His experience in Uganda underscores the potential for experienced professionals to contribute significantly to developing and improving hospitality standards in less-developed regions.

Jessen remains listed with SES and is open to future opportunities to share his expertise and drive positive change globally.