opinionBy Carmen Nibigira
Burundi recognizes that the travel, tourism and hotel sector is a sector with huge potential.
Burundi has, with support from government, taken several steps to develop. This is being done through a regulatory framework with policies, marketing and incentives geared to heighten the profile of the sector as one of the pillars of the economy.
The sector depends heavily on manpower; it is an industry with a significant prerequisite on human interaction. Employment yielded across diverse demographics (young, old, and women, men, skilled and unskilled) through this sector is one of the best attributes put forward for its development in Burundi - as in other developing countries in the world.
Development of this sector requires serious understanding of the complexity of job creation, skills (soft and hard), as well as knowledge transfer in a country like Burundi that is developing its embryonic tourism industry.
Addressing issues of poor customer services in Burundi is obvious and the foundations of the sector are subject to crumble if solutions are not part of the development process. Hence, there is need for urgent action in this regard.
Unskilled and unqualified manpower challenges can only be addressed through a variety of measures taken from public and private stakeholders working together in synergy. It is beginning to be recognized that human capital development for the tourism sector in Burundi will have to come from improved, Government funded education, supported by the private sector as a key player.
No one can dispute the fact that well-developed foundations are a prerequisite for positive effective development; the same rules apply to the tourism and hospitality sector. Minimizing unemployment, stimulating skills and knowledge is a mission embedded in plans of a post conflict country like Burundi. The tourism and hospitality industry is geared to offer medium to long term sustainable solutions to future challenges.
Since 2008, the government of Burundi has been committed to the development of tourism, viewing it as a strong economic pillar of sustainable development, presenting in different shapes and forms, from heavy investment like infrastructure to soft investment regarded as skills.
The demanding question for Burundi is how to address the severe lack of skilled and professional manpower. Therefore, the tourism and hotel industry requires the vital ingredient of significant investment to develop human resources.
It is surprising to see that a nicely built hotel in Bujumbura has been focusing heavily on developing infrastructures to serve customers, but forgetting that the essential cup of tea still needs to be served. Essentially, the menu that pleases the customer is the one than gives service with a smile.
This particular sector of tourism and hotel strikes the cord when the customer receives what he expects. Failure to recognize that serious and efficient investment in this area of customer service is a profound error of judgment.
Here, the narrative shifts from human resources in the generic sense, to one of more "basic" human capital accounted for in the balance sheet and budget. The notion of brushing up on the soft and hard skills has to be engrained in the culture of those investing in the sector. The not infrequent perception that skills are highly subjective and relative calls for serious discussion.
Many jobs in the Tourism industry can be executed without too much of training needed. However this is not the case with regard to those jobs which yield benefits. For example qualified Chefs, trained marketing staff, exemplary tour guides and customer service agents are not born with the skills; enhancement and professional training is the essential.
Notwithstanding these truths, the industry in Burundi is evolving. The manner and conditions in which people deliver tourism services in many respects have remained timeless, but there is significant positive change.
The fact that tourism work remains menial and under-valued in Burundi reflects the investment and resources allocated to addressing the gap between the shortage of skilled manpower and customer services.
Some contradictions are rooted in the perceive nature of the tourism industry having limited vocational and educational opportunities, as well as having a reputation for poor employment practices. Fueling this perception is the increase in low cost tourism services across the spectrum (aviation, tour operators etc..), which inevitably leads to low cost labor and the knock - on effect on product quality and customer service.
It is inevitable that we are less likely to see fundamental changes in Human resources and Development in the foreseeable future in Burundi if the course of development continues on its present course.
Therefore it is up to the stakeholders to conduct a skills-gap inventory analysis, with the aim of assisting in the formulation of a comprehensive national policy agenda for integration, coordination and implementation of tourism and hospitality education.
Collectively, the general advancement of qualified, trained and skilled labor forces is crucial, especially at this particular phase of development, given the rate of growth and future trends in the light of the potential that our country has to offer.
More importantly, tourism investment and development policy will need to be geared for dual purposes - hard and soft infrastructure - in order to facilitate and strengthen tourism.
I see Human Resources Development as a neglected area in Burundi In the field of Tourism and Hospitality. Human Resources Development is under-valued and at the same time a pressing issue which is proving difficult to grasp and incorporate in the priorities of investors and stakeholders.
Striving for better services in our hotels, our restaurants, our airport and travel agencies, is not something we need to ask for, it is the least they can offer.
Let Burundi raise the bar by talking about it and asking for better services, it is our right let our voices resound through our choices: who is worth our Franc, Dollar, Euro and Sterling? To achieve it, Burundi needs to push for dialogue on the need for manpower skills in the tourism and hotel industry.
Human resource is the lungs of tourism and hospitality. Without it, the industry dies.
The writer is a PhD Student at Clemson University South Carolina, USA.