Rwanda’s MICE not on steroids, it’s hard work!

Three things happened this week that brought me deep satisfaction. First, I successfully hosted a delegation of South African and Namibian industrialists who were exploring for business opportunities that climaxed with a trip to Gisenyi, the darling of leisure tourists.

Secondly, I was part of a small group of public relations professionals in Rwanda that helped organise the annual continental summit that gathered hundreds of the continent’s most prominent corporate communicators in Kigali, for a weeklong conversation on reshaping Africa’s narrative.

In the same week, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) announced its latest rankings naming Rwanda as Africa’s second most popular destination for hosting international conferences and events with South Africa’s Cape Town holding the lead.

When the investment promotion team at Rwanda Development Board, presented the country’s investment profile to the South African and Namibian business delegation on Wednesday morning, it still showed last year’s ranking which placed Kigali in third place; it has since been updated.

That impressive upward trajectory, from third place to second position ranking has been achieved in less than four years and is evidence that the country’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) was a brilliant strategy by the government of Rwanda that’s already yielding fruits.

Although Rwanda’s MICE is growing at an impressive speed, it is not by any chance on steroids. It is the hard work of people in government specialised agencies such as the Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), to thank for the successful regional and international events that Kigali has hosted, so far.

The latest ranking by ICCA, for instance, came at a time when Kigali was hosting two continental meetings; the Transform Africa Summit at the Convention Centre and the African Public Relations Association (APRA) conference at Serena hotel.

I got lucky, that as a member of the organising committee for the APPRA conference, we worked closely with the RCB team, and received firsthand experience in the amount of work they put in to ensure that events are not only successful but that participants leave with a great impression of the country.

Not once or twice, we left preparatory meetings late in the night, as the RCB team went over every aspect of the event, checking and counter-checking to ensure everything was as it should be; it would be 8pm or later in the night, but the team would still be alert and act fresh as if it was 8am in the morning.

There could be frustrations here and there, regarding one aspect or two that were not crystallising, but the RCB team at all times depicted the kind of composure that only comes with experience and proper training.

But they are also very assertive; politely but firmly advising event owners what they could not do, in line with Rwandan standards and culture.

The objective is to facilitate and guide events owners to holding successful events while ensuring national standards are not compromised; it is a continuous balancing act.

In the end, their hard work and nearly sleepless nights pay off when the event comes to life, held as planned, guests happy and country proud.

Early last year, I advised a good friend of mine who had two job offers to pick from; one offer was from RCB and my advice then was to go for it not the other because; “With your lifestyle and passion, I think you’ll draw the most satisfaction from a job with RCB.”

At the APRA Gala Dinner on Thursday night at Marriott, where the best PR campaigns of 2018 were awarded, I experienced what rapper Curtis Jackson meant when he said, ‘joy wouldn’t feel so good without pain.’

The stress and frustration of putting together a high-stake event wanes when the RCB team and local event managers join foreign delegates to celebrate what have often been successfully held events in Kigali.

It was nice seeing the RCB team and the local organizing committee join the foreign delegates on the floor, waving their countries’ respective flags, dancing to Rwandan traditional music, celebrating what was appraised by the APRA Secretariat leadership as a hugely successful summit.

But this celebration is often short-lived as the RCB team, buoyed by the positive feedback, almost immediately shift their mental focus to the next upcoming event. First, from attracting the event to Kigali through clever pitches and then facilitating the actual event logistics.

They also make sure they don’t overdose on the positive feedback, by conducting detailed evaluation of what went well and didn’t to ensure the next event is better than their last project. 

At RCB, victory is good but to keep winning, they ensure constant evaluation of the quality of every victory as was emphasized by Nelly Mukazayire, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Convention Bureau when she had her say on ICCA’s latest ranking of Kigali.

“We are happy to note the new rankings and we are working incredibly hard on attaining an even better position through hosting even more association meetings,” she said. Clearly, the focus is beyond the number one spot that Cape Town currently holds.

The views expressed in this article  are of the author.