2019 arrived with some spectacular fireworks in Kigali. Some great photos of the fireworks at the Kigali Convention Centre shot from the vantage point at Kigali Heights really turned out so beautifully and as expected, did the rounds on social media.
With time, my excitement about the New Year seems to wane and turn into a moment of reflection. It is often time to think of what the previous year was about and what the new one can be about.
That photo with the dome at the conventions centred full off colour and the sky lit up by rays of fireworks made me think about the journey Rwanda has taken as far as MICE tourism is concerned. MICE tourism for the initiated is basically about meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.
Over the years, Rwanda has proven to be quite strategic as far as its tourism goals are concerned. It is safe to say that it picked lessons from some of its neighbours and from elsewhere and then curved out its own unique journey.
Of course at times some of the moves seemed way too ambitious but time has often proven that the planners were simply ahead of time. With most of the countries relying a lot on wildlife tourism, Rwanda’s strong point was the Mountain Gorillas.
Not only does Rwanda have a remarkable conservation policy it also has the most easily accessible gorilla communities. But this was not enough and efforts were made to ensure that Akagera National Park could have the Big Five once again. Lions and rhinos were reintroduced into the park.
However more work was put into preparing the country to tap into the huge potential of MICE tourism which some refer to as the meetings industry. Of course before it could take off, the talk about the country’s tourism potential had many taking loans to invest in small and medium hotels. Unfortunately for some, the banks came knocking before the guests could fill up the hotels.
The tide did eventually turn and towards the end of last year there was a point when all big and medium hotels were fully booked and even the AirBnBs were running out. If anyone needed a sign that MICE was the thing Rwanda is cut out for then there it was.
Hotels were hosting more than one conference at a time and so the guests had filled up all the rooms. Hotel owners must have been walking into banks with ear-to-ear smiles.
With what 2018 showed us, 2019 can only get better and those in the sector should just be more prepared if they are to cash in on the trend. Kigali will certainly host more conferences and events that will bring in more visitors.
This means a lot of things including the fact that the city and country in general needs more hotel rooms to cater for the growing numbers of visitors. But MICE is more than just conference and hotel rooms. We have to think about everything else that those visitors needs when they come around.
Information must be readily available to potential visitors and this should be on all sorts of platforms and place. A lot of work should go into content creation for websites that cater for visitors like hotels, tourist attraction sites and other services they may need while in town.
The city council and government in general has to continue with efforts to improve the infrastructure needed to make life easier for locals and visitors.
Hotel owners and others in the sector should also put aside time and resources to train their staff on customer care and other soft skills that they need in order to be on top of their game. You don’t want your guests leaving nasty remarks on platforms like Trip Advisor or doing angry threads on Twitter about how they were mistreated while on a visit here.
In 2020, Kigali will host arguably its biggest event so far, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). This is a biennial summit that brings together heads of government from all the Commonwealth nations.
It will be a big event and I hope those in charge are already planning for how things will run smoothly.
The fact that Kigali was chosen to host the next CHOGM event is a clear mark of approval that the country is more than ready to reap big from MICE tourism. The benefits always spill over beyond the hotels and more and more people need to be sensitised on how they fit into this big puzzle.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.