Tourism industry in Rwanda has grown in a manner that can only be described as amazing. In these times of financial crisis any sector that registers a 9 % growth rate is doing an outstanding job. Let us get into a bit of details; due to the economic down turn, the sector saw tourist arrivals drop by 76,000 to 699,000. It expects to rake in $206millio by year end (at 595RwF to the dollar we are talking about 122.6 billion RwF). The sector is a clear and present opportunity.
But the important question is; if this number one foreign currency earner is such an opportunity, what kind of opportunity is it? Cash –cow or question mark? Let me explain a bit. A business is a cash cow when it is bringing in optimal returns. When it is doing as best as it can and no additional investment is necessary and indeed investing would be wasteful like weeding a mango tree with ripe mangoes. Nothing can be done to improve the same.
On the other hand, a question mark is a business that, though it brings high returns, can still be developed further. I submit that the tourism and hospitality sector is a question mark.
RTUC has just completed a two-month training for the hospitality sector players. It was funded by SNV and involved Rwanda Tourism and Travel Association (RTTA) and Rwanda Hotel and Restaurants Association (RHRA).
The training covered technical areas such as kitchen management, tour guiding and interpretation to first aid and the ubiquitous customer care. It went well and we learnt a lot. The principal lesson that I took from this training (yes, trainers learn too!) is the need for a more concerted effort to maximize the potential in this sector.
Let me explain simply. The tourism sector is currently like a choir where soprano is singing very well but alto, tenor and bass are doing what we call in Kiswahili kubabaisha! They are pretending to sing but they are not trying by way of learning or putting effort so sing well. They are bluffing!
Straight talk is called for here. The genesis of the training was when the key players in the industry told their associations what their ibyibazo (problems) were. They were clearly identified and funding was sought and trainers were identified as part of ibisubizo (solutions) to the issues raised.
The training began and carried on for two months plus straight. There was only the small matter of attendance which the chairmen and top officers of both associations and me tried to solve by informing the owners and managers of hotels and changing programs to make it friendlier to no avail. We had on average about a 10-15% attendance. We are told we were the lucky ones. This, in view of the launch of Standards Criteria for Classification of Accommodation is, to put it mildly, unacceptable.
The reason was that the owners are not willing, in light of the skills gap in the industry, to let their workers leave even for a moment to go for training. We have decided, thus going forward, to incorporate business-based training as an approach. But there is a sharing of best practices that is important and that can not be achieved through this approach.
Truth is that with the growth of the industry comes competition. The rules of survival dictate that only the most competent will survive. Doing same things in the same manner and expecting different results is another definition of insanity. Even as we adopt new approaches to adapt t the industry’s needs, the players who have apathy to useful trainings must change, and change quickly!
Rwanda is going to make some 200 million plus tourism dollars. How much of this money will go to your business as a player in the tourism industry? There is a clear and present opportunity.
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.