We talk to many hoteliers, and most say the most challenging component of their business is not finding properties or guests, but rather finding competent, well-trained staff. Staff shortages are most particularly acute in developing countries, where economic development hinges on a rapidly growing tourism sector, and few dedicated training facilities are in place.
It is with pleasure then that we share the success story of Sala Baï Hotel School in Siem Reap, Cambodia. eHotelier President Fritz Gubler has had a 10-year association with the 100 percent charity-funded school, which has done much in the past decade to fight poverty and empower young women, as well as supply well-trained hospitality graduates to the rising number of hotels catering to tourists visiting Angkor Wat. With Fritz, we talked to Claude Colombie, Sala Baï’s current Director to find out more.
Created in 2002 by the French NGO Agir Pour Le Cambodge, each year Sala Baï trains
100 young disadvantaged Cambodians in the four main professions of the hospitality industry: restaurant waiter/waitress, cook, receptionist & housekeeping attendants.
During 12 months, the school covers all the training fees (lessons, school supplies, books, uniforms), and daily expenses (accommodations, food, bicycle, insurance and medical expenses) for the students.
The training lasts 11 months from September to July. The 12th month, August, is dedicated to assisting new graduates find their first employment.Origin of the project
In 2002, Agir Pour Le Cambodge set up the Sala Baï program, due to the following reasons:
• In a country where 60% of the population is under 20, there is a very low school attendance rate (54% for girls and 68% for boys). Many young people leave school to contribute to the family income, thus obtaining precarious and seasonal jobs with no future.
• Few vocational training programs exist in the country, with opportunities even scarcer for those who have not reached Grade 9.
• Many girls drop out of school at a younger age than boys to help at home, work or get married. Very few vocational training opportunities are offered to young women, particularly those with a low level of education.
• At the same time, the number of hotels in Siem Reap, the gateway town of Angkor temples, is increasing very fast and they require a more qualified hospitality workforce.
• The profits from the tourism development in the area are badly distributed, especially among the poorest citizens (35% of the population live under the poverty level on less than US$1 per day).
The primary goal is to contribute to reducing poverty in Cambodia through social and professional support of young, underprivileged Cambodians.
• Each year 100 young Cambodians are trained and employed in the hospitality industry which is the fastest growing economic sector of the country.
• Priority is given to girls (70%), due to the fact that they are more vulnerable and have fewer training opportunities.
• Provide work skills development and capacity building to the local Sala Baï team for a future autonomization of the program.
• Last but not least, to contribute to the development of responsible tourism and the setting up and development of vocational training in Cambodia.
12 years already!
The numbers are impressive, with 1105 trained graduate students.
- 348 restaurant waiters and waitresses
- 349 cooks
- 282 housekeepers
- 126 receptionists
- 67% are girls, when counting the 12 intakes
- 100% job placement! In 2014, full employment of graduates was achieved only 5 weeks after course completion.
With all students finding employment after graduation, they are enabled to achieve economic independence and improve the living conditions of their families. Thanks to these young trainees and the direct impact on their families, more than 5500 people have already benefited from Sala Baï.
A new site for Sala Baï
On January, 27th, 2014, the French NGO Agir pour le Cambodge acquired the a new and larger site for the school located in Wat Svay. It is the first step of the school’s current redevelopment.
With its new site and building configuration, Sala Baï will be able to admit more students every year – the goal is 150 per intake by September 2017. The school will also launch a 5th training stream called “Beauty Therapy” for spas in large hotels. In 2015, school will start in this new building with 120 students.
Wat Svay is situated 5 minutes away from the Siem Reap old market. The new training hotel that will be set up in the existing building will have six rooms and a suite. The restaurant will be rebuilt to increase its hosting capacity by 40% to 65 seats. The current restaurant and rooms contribute 25 percent of the school’s annual operating budget, and with larger facilities, it is hoped that this revenue source will grow too. The construction works are just beginning this month, in September 2014.
If you or your hotel would like to contribute to Sala Baï, please contact the school through its website salabai.com. And for insights on the experiences of recent students, see Sala Baï graduates reflect on year’s hospitality training.