Africa Travel Week

Carmen Nibigira – A seasoned tourism policy analyst

A seasoned tourism policy analyst with over 20 years of experience in the hotel and tourism industry in Africa and Europe. Carmen is a dynamic business leader with an international track record of delivering significant results in complex, volatile markets. She has extensive experience and deep domain expertise in the tourism business (destination management and tourism policy), cross-regional consultancy and most recently, tertiary education.  

She is driven by her passion for catalysing change, initiating and overseeing transformation and a deep desire to serve. She is an expert in pulling together strategic frameworks, building coalitions, fostering innovation, and lobbying, advocacy, and communication driving substantial policy changes.

Most of her development work and consultancy has been in emerging destinations and fragile states. Carmen has worked in different capacities as an advisor to tourism boards, international and private organisations in the East, Central and Western part of Africa.  

A passionate champion for building solutions that transcend national borders, her interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence have infused her advocacy for inter – and intra-regional travel and tourism in the East African region. She served as a regional coordinator for East Africa Tourism Platform and a former Director-General of the National Tourism Office in Burundi, her native country. She is at ease in most cross-cultural settings and is a determined inveterate adventurer who loves the challenge of learning all about new cultures through travel. 

Carmen was awarded the “African Women in Tourism Leadership Award” in 2018 and voted as one of the top 100 influential women in travel in 2017. She is widely known for her courageous advocacy of quality education and socio-economic empowerment for women. She is the Chair of the Rwanda Board of Directors of Davis College, an East African higher education institution.

She also serves on the advisory board of Inkomoko, a business incubator in East Africa, an outlet for her interest in entrepreneurship. Her PhD from Clemson University, USA, was in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. Her area of specialism was policy and political economy of tourism and the socio-political fabric of emerging tourism destinations.   

Her most recent areas of interest have been how to migrate businesses and institutions up the value chain by instilling a commitment throughout the culture of the enterprise to optimise customer experience. Her doctorate was built on her Bachelor’s Degree, and her Masters both completed from her time living in the United Kingdom.

Carmen has what Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’; she is constantly pushing herself to learn more, widening her horizons through being an avid reader, and she’s a dedicated mother to her two sons and a passionate mentor to young people.   

What are the key challenges you see for the travel and tourism industry? 

It will be naive to say that the travel and tourism industry is facing new challenges in this new pandemic; the root causes of our underlying issues are still there but with variant degrees. With the pandemic now, some travel and tourism industry players have to choose the battles to fight with new animations. Across Africa, the industry has to recover with a strong focus on critical challenges such as loss of revenues (significant), high level of uncertainty, inclusion (women and youth), adaptability, and innovation (product development and digital).

From policymakers, one of the main challenges, I foresee, is the lack of clarity and support in some destinations, making it difficult for the sector to thrive; after all, tourism development is a political and policy decision. Doubts and worries about visitors’ safety at destinations that did not exhibit remarkable efforts to fight Covid 19 shall remain for some time, implying that some destinations will recover faster than others. It could take approximately up to 2025 for most African destinations to go back to 2019 numbers.   

What are the key opportunities you see for the travel and tourism industry? 

Opportunities are bundled in all those challenges above. But the quick wins, in my view, are in collaboration and partnerships at the destination level (domestic and regional tourism). By embracing the AFCTA strategy, we need to foster open sky policies, product development, and digitisation. Inter and intra-regional will lead the way!

This is the best time for countries/destinations to rewrite their tourism strategies with new approaches and market targeting. Tourism and hospitality consultancy business shall be on the rise now, a massive opportunity for them to make good money in rebranding, capacity building, communication, and marketing plans.

Due to the continued uncertainty about the sector’s tomorrow, investments have been suspended by some while to others; this is the best time to invest, buy the distressed properties now, take some time to renovate and redesign to meet the needs of tomorrow’s visitors.   

What are your predictions on the changes we will see in the tourism industry going forward?

Some changes are inevitable and are bound to shake the industry (security, safety, and cost), but I see the industry looking inward-looking for solutions. The market dynamics have changed and will continue to evolve; those investing in innovation and development will move faster. Positioning tourism and travel for growth will require some destinations to make strategic destinations on the key niche sectors they need to invest in (high-value niches).

In contrast, others will need to make drastic decisions on their strategies. On the investment point, a lot has to be done; one will need to re-think and redesign the support the industry will need to attract and retain going forward. Accommodation capacities for various destinations shall undoubtedly reduce, several properties will completely change the use or partition them for mixed-use.  

Can you tell us about some of the travel trends you have noticed and how it has affected your work? 

On a personal note, the cost of travel has increased, safety is non-negotiable and last but equally important, I prefer to travel closer to home. Some trends are now bundles in our new lifestyle, working from home, aspirations, and desires. Those long-haul travels are a little bit daunting, but those exotic and unique destinations that have been on people’s minds and bucket lists will win. 

What is your view on virtual events vs live events – what are the benefits and challenges you have seen or foresee? 

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both will continue to serve the needs of events and delegates. Soon we will be invited to attend events in person, and social interaction is key; weddings, birthdays, concerts, etc… are bound to come back, now we know that we will still expect to have an option of attending virtually. For our industry, this means innovation in digital platforms, new business models, and product development; this new hybrid is exciting and challenging at the same time. Still, both of them will now be important.

Hybrid meetings will lead the way until delegates are comfortable to travel and convene in large numbers; we have to accept this trend. This means a huge loss of revenues for MICE destination suppliers (Hotels, transport companies, DMCs, Meeting venues, etc.). They won’t make sales if 50% are following the event online.  

6.  What is the importance of travel and tourism shows like Africa Travel Week, including World Travel Market Africa? 

Such events are needed and will continue to play a key role; the difference now is that the virtual component should not be discounted. The virtual part is required to attract a wider audience; the question is how to make this part into a sound and sustainable business. I believe there is a need to have new forms of such events; a revamp is needed definitely. 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.