Meet the boss

14Jun 2016
Dickson Ng`hily
The Guardian
Meet the boss

In July last year, Carmen Nibigira, a Burundian national; was appointed as the Regional Coordinator of the East Africa Tourism Platform (EATP) where she works towards promoting the interest and participation of the private sector in the East African Community (EAC) integration process.

Carmen Nibigira

In his recent trip to Nairobi Kenya, our Smart Money Reporter had an opportunity to meet with Nibigira who in turns explained how it takes to be the EATP Coordinator. Here is the extract.

Would you shed light on your new position, what do you do as the EATP boss?

EATP’s work is to promote East Africa as one tourism destination. We work with East Africa Community member states and their private sectors.

We do this through advocacy, lobbying, information sharing, communication and creating synergies in the region.
What prompted you to venture into this industry?
Both my academic and professional experience that spans over 15 years in hotels and tourism in Africa, Europe and the USA as well as my ambition of seeing the tourism industry thrive prompted me into this industry.

In fact, I am hotelier at heart; I ran tour operations companies in Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya and managed an international hotel in Tanzania.
What were you doing before joining the hospitality and tourism industry?
I have been in the industry for a long time; I am a former Director General of Burundi Tourism Board.

With this position I led government restructuring efforts to create tourism competitiveness, public and private sector partnerships and rebranding of the country as an attractive tourism destination in the East African region.

I have also worked at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland, as an Academic Assistant and Researcher.
In addition, I have been involved in various projects such as conservation and research in the five countries of East Africa.
Besides, I have worked in a range of hotels ranging from 3 to 5 stars. These include Best Western, Accord Hotel Ground and Holiday Inn (Intercontinental Hotels) both in England and Tanzania.

Has your background prepared you to be EATP Coordinator?
Absolutely, both my academic and professional experience is contributing to the work I am trusted to do as the regional coordinator for EATP.

With a Bachelor’s degree in International Travel Management from University of Brighton and a Master’s degree in Tourism Destination Management from University College of Birmingham, UK and currently pursuing a PhD Candidate in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management in Clemson University, USA, I do believe the shape each part of my experience is part of the parcel.

What would you advise businesses getting into the tourism industry?

Tourism is a dynamic industry with a lot of potential. In EAC the industry needs sound business models with long term perspectives. Investment has to be both on soft and hard skills.
Our industry is made of “People”; hence investing in them is the smartest way of doing business.
Any business investment needs to have a clear strategy on how local communities will benefit.
Besides, sustainability of any business in the tourism industry should be grounded in environmental, social and economic aspects.

This is not a just an industry of building hotels, restaurants and lodges. It is an industry that requires professionals and adaptability.

Who should do what to improve the investment climate in the whole of East Africa?

Our policies to embrace the vision of EAC as one destination should be encouraged, so there is need to eliminate some of the barriers hindering the growth of the industry.
For instance, open sky policy, visa issues, free movement of doing businesses in the region and competitiveness.

Destination East Africa, is embedded in the success of creating policies which open EAC for domestic and regional tourism (inter and intra-regional tourism) for a growing market in Africa, while continuing to adapt to the changes happening worldwide in terms of product development and quality of services.

Can you give me an example of how open sky policy would ensure the growth in the EA tourism industry?

In most parts of the world, international air services between two countries operate under the terms of bilateral air service agreements (BASA) negotiated between two countries.

However, countries have recognized that BASA hold back the aviation sector and harm other sectors of the economy due to its unresponsiveness to market demands.

Therefore, the need for open skies is inevitable as it allows carriers of two nations to operate any route between them without restrictions on capacity, frequency or price.

Some even allow carriers to operate “tag-on” services to third countries (fifth freedom rights) and a few have removed foreign ownership restrictions.

Specifically, in the context of EAC, we are talking about One Air Space, connecting East Africa for the benefits of East Africans. Connectivity implies trade, business, social and economic benefits for East Africa.

Pricing of air services have hindered tourism and trade in the past. Once East Africa is treated as one Air Space, we will start seeing an increase in traffic of passengers.

After all, with South Sudan included in the East Africa Community we are talking of about a region of approximately 160 million people which makes a lot of business sense.

Therefore, open sky policy translates into economies of scale for a region that is currently suffering from poor airline connectivity.

Where is the place of tourism among EA member states’ national priorities?

At different levels; we have five countries with different paths of tourism … They are in different stages of development hence at different levels of national priorities.

By looking at the contribution of tourism into GDP, creation of jobs, one could say that tourism is placed among top national priorities.
However, the major question is on the budgetary allocation tourism gets from governments in relation to its contribution to national economies; of which is not enough.

How do you see tourism mingling with other ministries for its growth?

The tourism industry is linked to several ministries. Collaboration is the key ingredient needed. The peculiarity of the industry is the fact that it requires other ministries to deliver on their parts and together we can deliver our products and services to our industry.

Of course, this calls us to always watch out to some policies or measures which can be taken in isolation and can hinder tourism. The classic example is the increase on taxes which affects our sector.
Tourists are still hesitant to visit in big numbers that we would expect bear in mind that the East Africa is the leading tourist destination in sub-Saharan Africa due, in part, to the region’s geographical and natural resources.

What is not happening?

Insecurity has been a major issue. Though, it is not an EAC challenge. Each of us has to play a role in making sure our countries are safe and secure.

The industry has to adapt and look at measures of being resilient. Domestic and regional tourism have proven to be some of the best ways of keeping the industry alive when the international market prone to such threats doesn’t continue to do business with us.

If any, what are the challenges that you’ve encountered?

The challenge is to get everyone to agree on the same vision. Destination East Africa is not an easy dream to sell, but it is worth it. To work towards the same vision requires that one continues in an incremental way to push some critical issues on the agenda until the results are achieved.
Have you ever failed in anything?

Absolutely yes, several times, but it has never stopped me. Failing is part of the learning process.

Would you highlight some of your successes?

I would not say success, but I view myself in EAC as a player in the industry, contributing in my humble way to the dream and vision of creating Destination East Africa. The success or the privilege given is to be part of this amazing journey.

Does one need to go to school to become a successful entrepreneur and good manager?
Not necessary, but education is a good investment.
What do you do for fun?
Reading and hiking if time allows.