Chinese women inspiring Africa
Updated: 2013-03-08 11:54
By Lee Hannon (China Daily)
Sandra Rwese of Nairobi teaches countries and companies how to tap into China's tourism sector. Provided to China Daily
Sandra Rwese's passion for Chinese culture and understanding of the tourism potential offered by its new middle class, combined to create a perfect opportunity
Soon after enrolling at the Confucius Institute in Nairobi, Sandra Rwese had a "light-bulb moment" and realized not only had she discovered a new passion in life but also a guiding path to building a successful business. Her fascination with Chinese culture, history and the country's economic rise provided the perfect alchemy for the 38-year-old's success.
She soon mastered the language, but the world of knowledge she absorbed followed by numerous trips to China inspired her own business, teaching countries and companies how to tap into the rich pool of China's outbound tourism sector.
"I was impressed by the Chinese 24-hour work ethic," she says. "Equally impressive was the infrastructure layout and wide transportation network. Food was also very affordable and readily accessible all hours of the day or night."
But it was witnessing young Chinese women in positions of influence, managing wealth, and succeeding in high levels of leadership that inspired Rwese to launch her firm Chinese Business Trainers in Kenya in 2008.
Next month, her company will mark its fifth anniversary and it has every reason to celebrate. Rwese's groundbreaking work saw her win the global Chinese Tourist Welcoming award last year from one of the world's leading think tanks on Chinese outbound tourism.
Her research, Tourism Income Mix: The Role of Chinese Tourists in Kenya's Hospitality Renaissance, formed part of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute 2012 yearbook articles.
Rwese says: "When I established CBT in March 2008, initially I focused on training investment bankers and other corporate professionals on Chinese business etiquette and negotiation skills. I decided on this area of strategic management as it essentially forms the foundation for all future engagements with China.
"Despite a strong marketing campaign, the reception within Kenyan business circles was and still is quite dismal. I put the idea on hold and returned to regular employment, working as a research manager for a while. However, I always wondered, what if?
"So I turned to social media, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, to keep my name and network alive and it paid off, generating interest across the world, particularly in Germany, parts of the US, Denmark and, would you imagine, Iceland of all places. At the same time I revised my training curriculum toward understanding Chinese outbound tourism owing to China's 150 million middle-class consumer potential."
Today, her company advises numerous businesses within the hospitality industry, including five star hotel brands, airlines and tour companies, on how to cater to China's booming travel market potential.
Business is booming, but stereotypes still thrive in a land Rwese believes has made many mistakes and missed opportunities in not recognizing the business potential with China.
"Skepticism is rife and deeply ingrained in most hospitality circles, plus many business leaders fail to use concrete market research findings to guide their long-term business planning," she says.
"Statistics have been pointing to Asia since the late 80's, but key tourism stakeholders failed to get this important fact until quite late in the game. A local tourism authority I once approached in early 2012 said an intern was handling their China-strategy development process, therefore there was no need to appoint professionals such as myself."
But Rwese, a wine connoisseur who likes to relax by the swimming pool in the evenings, was not put off, and as well as teaching hotels to avoid the number four and white flowers (a sign of death in China) and to offer green tea, she also offers a stern warning to business leaders and investors.
"China is no longer an option," she says. "We are dealing with a new reality. The world is so heavily debt-ridden and those companies reliant on old money sources are doomed to stagnate, downsize, face acquisition or ultimately succumb to bankruptcy.
"In light of the 2008 post-recession shockwaves, how can any company refuse to switch gears and adapt to the new reality at hand. Some companies foresaw the rise of Asia and positioned themselves to trade with, source from, or serve Asian markets like China. But that represents only a small percentage of businesses who managed to align their long-term ambitions with Asia.
"Africa has failed to secure a larger slice of the huge investment potential China has and is continuously making on the continent. Teams going out to negotiate and market on behalf of Africa are not composed of the perfect mix of talent, personalities and synergy needed to maneuver Chinese deal-making sessions. We're not doing it right as a continent. Africa is using Euro-centric perceptions to negotiate a whole different playing field and it is not working."
In the future, Rwese hopes to join an international team of management experts devoted to designing solutions for clients tapping into Chinese consumerism.
She believes much more work needs to be done for the country to reap the benefits of China's growing outbound tourism to her homeland.
One of the latest moves is to encourage companies to install e-bookings on websites to make booking holidays easier for Chinese tourists. Installing China UnionPay card terminals in premises or accepting it as an alternative to cash is also important, she adds.
And likewise, Rwese is helping African businesses learn about their new guests in order to stay ahead in a changing, competitive market.
She says: "Conventional business models are quite stringent and rely less on emotive aspects such as intuition. Western models are fairly rigid and were not really designed to withstand 21st century fiscal turbulence. Post-2008, nearly all conventional models were blown right out of the water, signaling a rebirth in strategic focus.
"Eastern models on the other hand are malleable. Timelines can be reworked over and over again, products diversified, budgets revised and other variables adjusted much quicker because they were modeled around holistic thinking, not along linear lines of understanding."
Rwese is humbled by her recent award, but believes the best is still to come and the work ahead much harder, yet flushed with possibilities for both countries.
"Much work awaits hospitality change agents such as me, and the bulk of it will come when China's global ranking topples traditional source markets to become the No 1 tourism source in the world," she says.
"The flurry of consultancies might actually overwhelm us. Demand for change management, revised implementation planning, and recruitment will be exceptionally high."
And it is a change Rwese is committed to see through as she believes the hospitality industry in Africa will not grow in the coming years unless it taps into Chinese market.
"China is a game changer," she says. "So there is no Plan B because I maintain dual careers and succeed in both. I admit it's not easy but my passion runs deep for both Chinese outbound tourism and research alike."
(China Daily 03/08/2013 page23)