After being the first African city to host this global event in 2012, on Sunday August 10th, Kigali came alive for the third year in a row with the Dîner en Blanc pop-up picnic that is celebrated in only four African countries.
The white affair, that has become a signature mid-year event in Kigali, was attended by 585 people from all over the world and was marked by fanfare – featuring rising star and Jazz musician Mike Kayihura as well as DJ Pius.
Dîner en Blanc Kigali 2014 boasted participants from the region (Burundi, DRC, Uganda, Kenya, Ivory Coast, South Africa) and beyond (Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Australia, Oman, the Netherlands, and the United States).
The all-white outdoor feast is celebrated annually by as many as 15,000 people in cities around the world.
Kigali has received its fair share of criticism for a slow entertainment scene and so it happens that events like Dîner en Blanc are slowly repainting the face of the city’s leisure stage.
But not without drawing spitfire: I read in bemusement last year as negative comments were spewed at the Dîner en Blanc picnickers on social media and online news outlets for ‘wasting money by dining in all-white yet there are thousands of Rwandans without food or electricity.’
If I did not know better I might have thought I was reading excerpts from works by Marx and Engels! Jokes aside, I am not being insensitive: I believe that efforts towards improving all Rwandans’ lives should abound and that, as citizens, we have a role in achieving this end.
But I also know that most of the diners at Dîner en Blanc work tirelessly to build this country, to provide for their families and build enterprises of their own – if they want to spend an evening in white celebrating with family and friends, why should anyone have a problem with that?
It is worthwhile to look past the pomp of the all-white soiree, and appreciate what an event of this kind means for the Rwandan economy.
Ask local tailors what Dîner en Blanc means to them and the impact of the event becomes palpable: every Dîner en Blanc event provides a sizeable market for local service providers like tailors, restaurateurs, retailers, bus companies, to mention a few, essentially injecting revenue into our private sector.
The event also creates the opportunity to promote event venues, like the Acacia Gardens in Kagugu, where the event was held this year.
Dîner en Blanc is a prime event to capitalise on the turnout of picnickers to promote a number of attractions and services in Rwanda to encourage local and regional tourism.
This can be done through promotions and via performing artistes: for example the Akagera Aviation promotion last year created awareness about the aerial touristic tours offered.
This year’s promotions featured RwandAir tickets to Nairobi and Mombasa; a trip to Ruzizi lodge in Akagera national park which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year; customised clothing and accessories by local designers; and dining experiences from Mille Collines by Kempinsky and Braschetto restaurant.
Beyond the obvious injection of economic capital into state coffers, leisure and entertainment events, on top of attracting people from within Rwanda and from neighbouring countries, help build social capital.
With the growth and expansion of tourism in Rwanda, one cannot ignore the value of how tourism trends connect to leisure and entertainment – tourists in the country to see mountain gorillas are also looking for unique leisure experiences in Rwanda.
And that’s not all. A premiere international dining event like Dîneren Blanc is critical for the ‘branding’ of Kigali as an up-coming, contemporary city; as Rwanda markets itself on the world stage, events like Dîner en Blanc could flavour promotion stories about Rwanda as a tourist and working destination offering a wide range of leisure activities.
Of course the aim of branding Kigali favourably is not solely to attract visitors for the time of the event, but to create associations that capture the energy of Rwanda’s growing economy.
In fact, Dîner en Blanc complements Rwanda’s budding MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) strategy that is expected to promote tourism and boost the image of Rwanda.
The MICE strategy expands on Rwanda’s strategy to draw in foreign revenue by diversifying the booming tourism sector.
For example, with a world-class event like this, participants from East Africa, with relatively similar touristic attractions, would be attracted to Rwanda to be part of an event that is not celebrated elsewhere in the region.
I could go on and on ...this article does not do justice to the economic impact of this event that has reinvented dining and fun in Kigali: say what you may, Dîner en Blanc is much more than a dining experience, it adds savour to our economy as well!
Happy week folks!