Vaccines offer struggling firms much-needed lifeline

Tuesday September 21 2021

Rwanda largely made the right moves, constructed a state-of-the-art convention centre, attracted global hotel brands, but then the pandemic hit. PHOTO | FILE


Covid vaccines have provided the much needed reprieve especially for the many businesses that were on their deathbed, and economies that were choking on debt and depressed production.

The pandemic spoilt the party for countries like Rwanda, which for years had positioned itself as a Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) destination, a strategy the country heavily invested in.

Rwanda largely made the right moves, constructed a state-of-the-art convention centre, attracted global hotel brands like as well as luxury hotel brands targeting high net worth individuals.

The country had started gaining from its investments, having hosted many global and continental events, like the World Economic Forum, AfDB meeting, AU general assembly meeting, and many others.

All this came to a standstill last year when the pandemic broke out and an entire business ecosystem that had been built around events suffered the subsequent revenue hit. Celestine Makuza, the proprietor of the Events factory, one of the leading events companies in Kigali, said in the first year of the pandemic they had zero events and the company lost an untold amount of revenues.

Towards the end of last year, Makuza's company picked up and started organising virtual events, which he says came with its challenges but brought a new dimension into the business.


He said that besides virtual events offering significantly lower earnings compared with what they were used to, they faced a cultural shock associated with virtual events and low concentration levels from attendees.

"We learnt that it is hard to hold a virtual event beyond one day, it can work for half a day, not three days like we are used to," he said.

Makuza said the recent announcement that allowed 50 percent attendance of events, on condition that everyone is tested, gave some hope, but they are cautiously optimistic.

He said that even after everything goes back to normal, the business will never be the same again.

Richard Balenzi, a commercial lawyer based in Kigali said the discovery of virtual meetings stand to save corporate companies a lot of money in air fare, hotels and other expenses, which they have been incurring to host their executives and board members.

"I see companies using virtual meetings and saving on these expenses, it has already started happening," he said.

If virtual meetings catch on post-coronavirus, the trend will deal a huge blow to service-based businesses, which had strategically positioned themselves to earn from offering a wide range of services and goods to guests.

The gig economy, which has been dubbed as the future of work in Africa, has largely relied on events, tourism and hospitality to flourish, as many unemployed youth in Africa and other developing countries offered services like MCeing or deejaying.