Hospitality sector gears up for Africa aviation summit 2017

Front desk staff at Radisson Blu Hotel attend to customers. Hospitality sector players say they are ready to host the forthcoming Africa aviation summit.

As the second African Aviation Summit in Kigali draws near, sector players say the conference will be a platform to forge partnerships and learn from experience of more advanced markets and stakeholders from the continent and beyond. The event is part of the Aviation Africa series launched a couple of years ago. The initiative seeks to foster dialogue and build sustainable networks in the continent’s aviation sector supply chain, as well as create a competitive environment for businesses.

The event that takes place from February 22-23 will attract more than 2,700 aviation experts and other stakeholders to discuss opportunities and challenges facing Africa’s aviation sector.

The Kigali Aviation Africa summit 2017 in Kigali will be the second event in the Aviation Africa series; the first was held in May, 2015 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

Local sector players say the summit presents Rwanda a huge opportunity to showcase its potential toward becoming a regional conferences and aviation hub. The country has increased investment in aviation infrastructure development and equipment to make the local aviation industry more competitive.

In 2014, Rwanda Development Board launched the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) initiative to position Rwanda as a top conferences destination to boost the tourism industry and improve its contribution to national economy, as well as widen opportunities for sector players.

Denis J. Dernault, the general manager of Radisson Blu Hotel and Convention Centre Kigali, said the conference is yet another opportunity that challenges sector players to “step up the game and invest more resources to ensure quality” services.

Dernault, however, added that the country has enough experience and technical expertise to host the summit.

“We have hosted summits of this magnitude successfully previously. Therefore, we are confident this will be a success too,” he told Business Times. Kigali Serena Hotel chief Daniel Sambai said the conference is a vote of confidence in Rwanda’s hospitality sector.

“We are currently focusing on how we can further improve customer delivery services and ensure our guests get the best experience while in the country,” he said. Sambai said players must ensure constant staff training to enhance Rwanda’s capacity to attract more conferences.

Frank Murangwa, the acting chief executive of the Rwanda Convention Bureau, said recently that hosting the event is part of efforts to attract more MICE events into Rwanda.

Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board, said hosting one of the continent’s big summits calls for high level quality of services.

Why the summit is important for Rwanda

Aviation players are confident the summit brings opportunities to the industry. John Mirenge, the RwandAir chief executive officer, said the choosing Rwanda as the first host of the conference in Africa is a big plus for the local aviation sector.

“Rwanda was chosen to host the summit because of its welcoming visa policy, as well as the strategic geographic location, security and the big investment in the tourism, hospitality, and aviation sectors,” Mirenge noted last week.


RwandAir’s CEO Mirenge

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) latest forecast, Rwanda is one of the 10 African countries whose aviation market is expected to grow by 7-8 per cent each year on average over the next 20 years, doubling in size each decade.

Patrick Nsegimana, an aviation analyst in Kigali, said government commitment and support has been critical, ensuring the sector grows its potential as the country positions itself to becoming an aviation hub.

Nsegimana added that this conference is timely, noting that Rwanda should use the opportunity to learn, lobby and network to stimulate other players on the continent and across the globe to ensure best practices in the local aviation industry.

Government has invested almost $50 million to upgrade and expand Kigali International Airport. Works for Bugesera International Airport are ongoing and are estimated to cost over $800 million. The airport is projected to be completed by end of 2018.

Tony Barigye, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority chief public relations officer, is optimistic the forum will contribute to the growth of aviation sector in Africa and urged players to take full advantage of the summit.

He added that the meeting is also an opportunity for the Rwanda aviation to showcase achievements recorded over the past few years and the industry’s vision.

Meanwhile, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) said the decision to hold the second edition of the summit on the continent is “proof that African aviation industry has become of age”. However, the continent is still underserved, which is a huge opportunity for African airlines. Governments also need to draft supportive policies and liberalise their spaces to boost traffic. They also need to understand that aviation is a fragile industry and avoid introducing a lot of taxes.

“Governments should understand that if you reduce charges it brings more trade and prosperity which compensates for the taxes. Therefore, transport and finance ministries should always work together on such issues and draft tax policies that support the sector,” a recent IATA report noted.

It added that African airlines continue to suffer from foreign competition, especially from gulf and European carriers. High operational costs and poor infrastructure are some of the major challenge to the continent’s aviation industry, according IATA. Therefore, the Kigali summit is expected to help provide solutions to some of these challenges.

Aviation sector growth outlook

Africa’s aviation is expected to post positive growth in the next five years with passenger numbers projected to increase by 4.8 per cent.

The number of freights will also grow by 3.5 per cent in the next five years according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) statistics.

Equally, the number of airline passengers in Africa is expected to increase by 4.2 per cent and the number of freights by 4.4 per cent.

The growth in the number of freights will be far better than that of Europe, which will grow by 3 per cent, while passengers will inch up 2.6 per cent.

The highest growth in passenger numbers will be in the Asia Pacific region at 6.3 per cent, and 3.8 per cent increase in the number of freights.