“Rwanda Tourism Board scoops top award in London”, various media reported early last week. They were talking about the board’s win at this year’s World Travel Market, reportedly the premier global travel event for the travel and tourism industry.
This sort of news has become familiar. Every time the Rwandan tourism industry agencies enter an international fair, we expect them to come away with a trophy because they have done it so many times.
They win because of impressive stands, exceptional customer care and out-of-this-world-presentations. That’s what the judges tell us.
Obviously, in order to impress at these sorts of fairs where every country’s tourism industry puts on the best and most attractive act, a lot of planning, organization, energy and creativity go into mounting such spectacular stands. And that is as it should be.
The tourism board’s business is to market Rwanda’s tourism to the world. And they are doing it the best way – packaging the country as not only breathtakingly beautiful (which it is), but also stunningly efficient (to which we aspire) and marvelously friendly and hospitable (not in dispute).
When this is done right – as has been the case to date – it translates into a brighter image for the country, more and wealthier tourists visiting Rwanda and, of course, more revenue. And we are all proud of it.
Yet for all these achievements abroad, there is still something missing locally. Somehow they remain sort of distant, even remote. The same level of achievement – at least in a sustained manner – has been lacking.
This has in no small measure caused concern at the highest level in this country. President Paul Kagame has in the recent past berated us for sluggish and sloppy delivery of services, poor customer care and lack of consumer assertiveness.
He has shown his impatience with the level and pace of performance all round.
So why do we cause the president so much irritation? Why don’t we perform to the same high standards the tourism board has shown on many occasions?
The answer, I think, lies partly in the national character. It seems we excel at marketing to outsiders – which is fine with tourism. We will spare no effort to convince and impress the outsider even in such matters as national politics.
Perhaps this arises from the mistaken notion that the local does not need convincing because he knows what is on offer, that he is privy to the message, so to speak.
On the flip side is the dangerous attitude seen in official circles and best summarized thus: familiarity breeds disdain. According to this attitude, locals can be taken for granted with the excuse,” they will understand; they will not complain”, even when the service is poor.
It is an excuse for not doing the best and a contemptuous dismissal of our people as not deserving the best.
There is a third reason. There is a growing tendency – it is actually fashionable – to pay more attention to packaging than to the product being packaged. We have become experts at this.
So, in some cases presentation becomes more important than implementation, pronouncement greater than performance and the medium assumes greater value than the message.
Examples of our expertise in this area are many. Take the matter of performance contracts, for instance. Every year district mayors line before the president and the public and make impressive presentations of their achievements, goals and ambitions.
They employ the latest information technology matched by very colourful language. Their presentations are actually animated brochures. We clap and cheer.
There appears to be a difference from the general tendency to impress outsiders because these marketing gimmicks are directed at us. But, of course, there is the possibility that the mayors see us as such, that we are a passive, although, admiring audience invited to a dazzling performance.
And may be that is what it is because shortly after that we hear of planned schools not built because the contractor took all the money and disappeared, or roads built half-way because the money has gone missing. Some mayors and other district officials are then sacked, others resign voluntarily or are pushed and others are jailed.
May be we are caught in the dazzle of presentation and get blinded to what follows – until it is late.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been tremendous successes in what the mayors promise. That is not in dispute. But truth e told, a good many remain unfulfilled.
All these need not happen. It is clear that we are capable of performing to the highest standards.
The verdict of the judges at the World Travel Market in London last week is proof of this. Said they of the Rwandan stand:” The staff were friendly, vibrant and culturally authentic. It (the stand) was cohesive, cosy and manageable. The staff were passionate about accessible tourism and engaged with passing traffic.”
What is needed is a change in mindset so that presentation and performance become part of one thing especially here at home.
Rwandans also need to be convinced about things purportedly done on their behalf. They also deserve the best.
Then consumers will learn to demand more than a show and the president will not be a lone crusader against unkept pacts.