Africa: Promoting Tourism Through Football, African-Style, Lessons from Rwanda
Football captures the attention all over the world. Meet an innovative tourism partnership from the Premier League and a rising African luxury destination – Rwanda.
April 6 is always a very emotional date for me, for it was on that date in 1994 that a plane was shot down in Central Africa, killing two presidents on board. What followed was the quickest genocide in history, in Rwanda, an impoverished country which lost over 10% of its population, as 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days.
I arrived a couple of weeks after the madness had finished, working in Rwanda for 9 months as an aid worker, on programmes to feed the traumatised survivors and supply them with the seeds and tools so that they could start to rebuild their livelihoods.
It was without doubt the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done, as well as the biggest head f*ck. It also changed me, for the better.
This year’s April 6 found me starting the day in luxury at Lustica Bay in Montenegro, with a 9-hour drive to Zagreb ahead of us.
I told Marko, my sales director, as we drove past Kotor along the Bay of Kotor, that I might be a little emotional on the drive, for this was not only the day, but 25 years since the madness started.
“Visit Rwanda,” he replied. “You see it all over the Premiership, especially at Arsenal.”
How strange, I thought, and we discussed it a little. When we got home, I googled a little and saw image after image of Arsenal promoting tourism in Rwanda.
My little Rwanda, a nation traumatised, has been transformed in the last 25 years. So much so, in fact, that it recently was named by Business Insider (after research with a luxury tourism operator) in the top 15 countries billionaires want to visit in 2019. As we reported recently, Montenegro also made the list, but there was no Croatia.
It turns out that Montenegro and Rwanda have other things in common, such as the One&Only hotel brand. Already established in Rwanda, One&Only is set to open its first hotel in Europe next year, just 30km from Dubrovnik Airport, in Montenegro. I digress.
Rwanda is a tiny country which has chosen a path to go after quality tourism, relying on quality not quantity. It has not only protected its iconic mountain gorillas, but provided the environment where they have thrived and expanded to almost 500, having been on the verge of extinction until very recently. Permits to view are high ($1,500 per person), but they apparently sell 96 permits on average daily, which alone covers the rumoured £30 million they paid Arsenal for the partnership. From the official website:
Visit Rwanda is Arsenal Football Club’s official Tourism Partner and its first shirt sleeve partner. The Visit Rwanda logo features on the left sleeve of all AFC teams for the duration of the exciting, three-year partnership.
The Arsenal shirt is seen 35 million times a day globally and AFC is one of the most watched teams around the world, enabling Visit Rwanda to be seen in football-loving nations around the world and helping its drive to be an even more successful tourism and investment destination.
Arsenal’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vinai Venkatesham, said: “This is an exciting partnership which will see us support Rwanda’s ambition to build their tourism industry. The country has been transformed in recent years and Arsenal’s huge following will bring Rwanda into people’s minds in a new and dynamic way.”
Rwanda is ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Africa by the World Bank and has been awarded for its leadership in tourism and economic competitiveness by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the World Economic Forum respectively.
Rwanda Development Board Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi said: “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Arsenal and showcasing the vibrancy and beauty of our country. Rwanda is a country pulsing with energy, creativity and innovation.
“Visit Rwanda and discover why we are the second fastest growing economy in Africa. Investors in Rwanda are able to register their businesses in only six hours and prepare to enjoy the opportunities accrued from the free trade agreements that we’ve signed with over 50 countries.
As part of the partnership, Arsenal players from the men’s and women’s teams will visit Rwanda and club coaches will host coaching camps to support the development of the game for boys and girls in the country.
‘Visit Rwanda’ will gain global exposure through branding on matchday LED boards at the Emirates Stadium, all the interview backdrops and a broad range of other marketing rights.
It has no players at Real Madrid or Barcelona. None has ever played in the Premier League. In fact, it appears that only about 20 have ever played professionally outside the country.
A few months ago, reflecting on the HUGE interest in Croatia caused by the World Cup – both success on the pitch, the amazing fans, and THOSE shirts, I suggested that Croatia should brand tourism and football together. As Rwanda has now done so, perhaps I got the idea in that football crazy country while handing out bags of beans all those years ago.
The deal has not been without controversy, with some questioning how countries like the UK are sending aid to Rwanda, only to see millions being pumped into a London Premier League side. The justification is that those budgets are from totally different sources, and the gorilla permits alone more than fund the reputed investment of £30 million An investment which could pay back very handsomely indeed, according to a report in The Guardian:
The deal is already getting people thinking about the impoverished country’s tourism industry, which offers lakeside resorts and walks with mountain gorillas – with one expert estimating that the £30m investment could help to bring in £300m of new revenue.
“Rwanda wouldn’t have occurred to me as a place for tourism, so perhaps you do need to shock people,” said Kelvyn Gardner, the head of international development at the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. “What you’re buying with sponsorship it’s brand recognition. Football shirts can be over monopolised by things like online gaming companies, so it will stand out.”
Time will tell if the money will have been well spent, but how refreshing and innovative to see a small African country take the initiative to break new ground in such a global product as football.
And how even more refreshing to see this beautiful yet impoverished country rise from the ashes of the devastation of 25 years ago, and emerge as a Central African superstar, with some rather surprising accolades – in the top 15 places for billionaires to visit in 2019; the 9th safest country in the world the most women MPs in the world, and the second fastest growing economy in Africa. Chances are that Arsenal will help to increase that pace of growth.
By Paul Bradbury