Matthew’s visit to Ethiopia and Rwanda

Matthew’s visit to Ethiopia and Rwanda

 
My objectives of this trip, when not sat in an airline lounge, taxi or airplane was to visit Ethiopia to officially announce the launch of our conference to the media and then head off to Kigali to see how developments in Rwanda were going for the new Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre and the Kigali Marriott Hotel properties.  Both of which are planning to open their doors for 2016.

Two very different countries and cultures with two very different experiences… 

The comparative sky lines – the first from the Sheraton overlooking Addis and the Marriott in Kigali. 

 

Obtaining a VISA wasn’t easy again but there have been some processes put in place which will make it easier for the event.  Immigration will now accept multiple currencies and card payments.  Outside of this, unfortunately, the process seemed chaotic and I was only glad I managed to get somewhere near the front.  I addressed this with the ETO, our partners, and changes will be in place to support the smooth entry of our delegates which is a relief. 

After some meetings on the Monday we worked on preparing a media briefing set for 10am on Tuesday morning.  It was a somewhat nervous start that, at 10am, we only actually had 3 press arrive but we’d also gained a new speaker.  At this point, however, I had real doubts that this was going to even take place but by 10.30am we had a pretty full and attentive room – a hubbub of local press and, true to form, it all seemed to go rather well. 

After a short meeting with Ethiopian Airlines I was straight off to Kigali.  After a very productive meeting regarding how we can best work together – with some interesting topics for AHIF being generated – I got the chance to explore a museum piece in the grounds of the compound.  I found out that this plane was actually the plane that took the first ever flight for the airline to Cairo, via Asmara, in 1946.  It was magnificent and I saw an opportunity to go and have a look inside.  You could feel the history wash over you when stepping into the fuselage – you could imagine the noise, the turbulence and the excitement of being on it.  The romance was, however, definitely dented a little when I, curiously, took a little peak into the loo and was promptly knocked back by the stench. My contact at the airline commented that it must have been the construction workers nearby finding relief during the day.

   

Onto Kigali but only after a cancelled flight and, as a result, a full day in Entebbe airport lounge as a consequence.  It did mean I got the chance to fly to Rwanda over Kigali which is an absolute pleasure.  However, was met with another tiresome and aggravating VISA process. 

I was excited that I was going to be staying at the Hotel Des Mille Collines or, to many, The Hotel Rwanda (Don Cheadle fame).  I’d been to this hotel on my previous visit but I had not stayed the night – only taking lunch there.  I remembered the service that time not being good at all.  However, the hotel had recently been rebranded to a Kempinski, so I was curious to see if that had made a difference.

The turn-around is interesting because it is, currently, more about the people than the product.  Yes, they’ve updated the lobby and put a lick of paint around the place but actually the same staff from two years ago are now seriously happy, motivated and attentive.  So many of the rough edges (including the original curtains, furniture and some attempts at wiring in UK plugs in the room) were easily forgiven because of this.  There is still some work to do around the rooms with the bathrooms a priority but, on a romantic level, it would be sad if they lost the history and feel of the 70’s when they do so.

        

Poolside at Hotel Rwanda

Getting going in Rwanda was quite slow but we did some visits of some new hotel properties.  Both Radisson and Marriott properties are on their way to being extremely iconic buildings in the city and I liked the spaces they are creating for Rwanda’s focus on the MICE industry.  However, due to contractual issues, the Convention Centre property hadn’t progressed very far since I last saw it two years ago.  It did, however, have the iconic roof in place.  Built in the image of the indigenous family homes found in the Rwanda the Convention Centre is already a striking looking building that pays homage to the past but will look to the future.

Rwanda always impresses me.  The streets are safe, clean and quite beautiful.  The climate is good and it produces an abundance of trees and greenery.  If anything it could be argued, harshly in my opinion, that Rwanda lacks a bit of an edge and is a bit quiet compared to other African cities.  This image of quiet city with little to do is an image that I got the impression Rwandan’s want to re-address.  However, during my stay I was able to get out and play tennis, drive around the city safely, shop and eat out at some wonderful restaurants with views of the rolling hills I think this is perhaps a concern only assigned to locals.  I see great potential for this to develop over the coming years. 

     

The striking view skywards at the exhibition centre.

Whilst I was in Rwanda I also took the chance to spend some time with Ed Pearson of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF – www.rcsf.org.uk).  A charity we had supported with the Kilimanjaro climb last year.  I took the time to see the local facilities – just one pitch for the whole of Rwanda – and the ground chosen for the new pitch.  It was a special moment to meet a couple of the young players, one they nicknamed Danger because he could hit the ball so far, and to see the challenges and the passion to overcome them. 

     

The future site of Rwandan cricket – needs levelling – but must be one of the most beautiful views for a match.

Unsurprisingly I faced further airline madness for my journey home.  All in all, for a complete week trip I worked out that I spent 3 and half days either in the act of travelling or being stuck in airports struggling my way into and around the continent.  Perhaps this is actually a good place to start thinking about some key topics for AHIF 2015…….