I spent most of last week away from home and on the road with several tourism enthusiasts. With an array of activities organised by Rwanda Development Board to precede the 12th Gorilla Naming ceremony – Kwita Izina, there was so much to learn and ponder.
I love the fact that the event and other activities around it bring together lots of people from different backgrounds and specialities. Most of these people are from the conservation world, obsessed with how tourism can remain a sustainable business in this era where many animals are being poached and their habitats are being consumed by growing human populations.
Different countries involved in the tourism business have different experiences and lessons to offer. Rwanda has proved to be a success when it comes to conservation and I guess that is why many come here for lessons on the same.
However, the country also faces unique challenges like worrying population pressure where in other places the biggest challenge is poachers.
Rwanda has in the past acquired Maasai giraffes from Kenya and lions from South Africa. Rhinos are coming soon as well, from South Africa. The giraffes and lions have already multiplied since being brought.
However, given the issue of population pressure and the size of Rwanda, I can foresee a time when the country will be a leading donor of wildlife to places that may not be as committed to conservation efforts.
There was also a lot to learn from the Kwita Izina tourism exhibition which I think should be a bigger annual event. I, for example, had a chat with a hotelier from coastal Kenya who told me how they suffered due to terrorism and how the Tanzanian operators seized the opportunity to up their game.
He, however, pointed to the fact that a greedy government can easily kill off tourism with things like new taxes and a reluctance to incentivise those in the industry.
He said Kenya had blundered at some point and got its fingers burnt but has now reduced park fees and removed some taxes. Tanzania was also making the same mistake with new taxes on tourism. The tough times have also taught Kenyans new lessons on tourism marketing. They have now discovered and embraced domestic and regional tourism.
Another Kenyan gentleman at the exhibition was asking me about advertising rates here while another wanted to know which local bloggers and social media influencers he should engage in order to capture the attention of Rwandans.
I also learnt a lot from a Turkish travel marketing guru. This unassuming gentleman even had business cards that looked just like airline ticket boarding passes! He complained that some national travel boards are too slow to realise that marketing has changed a lot in this era of social media and therefore fail to take him serious when he proposes to partner with them to market African destinations to the Middle East, Europe and Asian markets.
The tourism industry is a chain industry affecting so many people along the way. A tourist coming to a country will spend money on air tickets, taxis, park fees, tour vans/trucks, hotels, food, souvenirs in form of almost anything and so much more.
All those along this chain ought to know the role they play and how they can play it better. This also includes those charged with security which is a core requirement where tourism is concerned.
When the industry suffers, even the person who planted tomatoes that end up in a hotel is affected even though they may have previously seen themselves as very detached from the tourism industry.
However, we should not wait for bad times to realise how important the industry is to all of us. And by the way not all tourists want to go to high end ‘touristy’ sites. Some just want to experience ordinary life, sample a local beer or meal.
That is why I loved the pictures of the Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Kenya. I can’t think of a better PR coup for an East African country’s tourism in the recent days. Zuckerberg not only posted pictures of Kenya’s legendary wildlife offerings, he was also seen eating Ugali with fish at Mama Oliech’s restaurant.
That picture alone is worth billions of dollars when it comes to marketing culinary tourism in Kenya. Culinary tourism is something I intend to write about very soon now that I have encountered many folks who don’t seem to understand its significance in the tourism set up of a country.Follow https://twitter.com/ssojo81