“I did not have any idea about the hospitality industry before,” she says. She didn’t even know anyone who worked in hospitality.
The opportunity came to her from the local Women’s Union in her village, who had been requested by Swisscontact to identify eligible candidates for a hospitality training. “They asked if I was interested in having training in hospitality. It was the first time I heard about something like that. Of course, I signed up together with some of my friends to try for an interview” she said.
“I wasn’t sure if I would get selected because I didn’t know anything about the hospitality industry, and I was the first to be interviewed.” Phiala was interviewed by an industry representative from the Hotel and Guesthouse Group in Vangvieng to assess her suitability to enter the hospitality industry.
Phiala’s nervous feelings were misplaced. She was selected based on her positive attitude and open communication style. She enrolled in the 12-week Pheun Than Heng A Sip (PTHAS) training programme, provided by the hospitality department of the Technical College of Vientiane Province in Vangvieng.
The PTHAS training programme was designed to address the issue of low service quality in tourism and hospitality businesses and includes over 150 tailor-made training units and competency-based assessments. It was piloted in 2016 in the south, specifically, Champasak province with the Department of Information Culture and Tourism (DICT), the Champasak Hotel and Restaurant Association (CHRA), and the Lao National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality (LANITH).
Since then, the PTHAS model has been expanded to 8 provinces in Laos with business-to-business training delivered by industry trainers affiliated with local business associations. In collaboration with Skills for Tourism Project (LAO/029), Swisscontact implements the PTHAS program to upgrade hospitality skills amongst 500 micro-small and medium enterprises (MSME) staff and support 500 more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the tourism and hospitality sector in selected southern and central provinces. Of the local people from disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in the project, 84 per cent of the participants are female. The programme is financially supported by the Governments of Lao PDR, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Phiala learned a lot of technical skills in the school, but the 4-week industry placement was her favourite part. It was during this time that she impressed the owner of the hotel with her attitude and work ethic. “The teachers coached us well during the training. I learned a lot from them, and I was able to apply it in my internship,” she explains.
The PTHAS internship provides experience to trainees in key occupation areas required hospitality sector: front office, food and beverage service, good kitchen practice, and housekeeping.
This eventually led to a job offer from the host business owner. For Phiala this was transformational, as now she could contribute to her family’s finances including her sister’s education. “I am very happy. I’m the second of my six siblings to get a job. It has helped my family a lot,” she says.