The Mastercard Foundation Hanga Ahazaza initiative in Rwanda has graduated 127 graduates who have been tasked to be at the center of promoting the country’s image of tourism and hospitality in their daily duties of welcoming visitors to Rwanda.
The group, composed of RwandAir staff, is the fourth intake under a $50 million, five-year initiative focused on increasing employment opportunities for young people while expanding the tourism and hospitality sector in Rwanda.
Of the 127 graduates, 76 are in customer care roles such as flight attendants, ticket and check in agents and security. The remaining 51 are in operational roles such as marketing, finance and catering
The graduates received Cornell University Recognition of Achievement in Service Excellence, a Certificate in Hospitality Management and a Certificate of Specialization after undergoing a 10-month training program offered by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.
The course focused on various content areas including hotel operations, service, leadership, financial management, marketing, and revenue management.
The program is delivered by Cornell through both online courses that can be completed at any time and live, virtual synchronous events with Cornell faculty and the course roster has been modified to fit the Rwandan context to ensure you are receiving the most relevant hospitality and tourism related instruction.
The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business is providing educational training to hospitality professionals in Rwanda via e-Cornell online courses, virtual events, and executive education courses.
These graduates of the certificate in hospitality management program were provided tools to better serve their customers and resolve situations before they escalate.
They also were given business skills like marketing, operations, income statements and team building. They also chose 2 electives in an area of specialization.
The majority chose food and beverage, restaurant revenue management, financial management or tourism.
Rica Rwigamba, Country Director, Mastercard Foundation, said in tourism and hospitality, an airline and its staff are the frontliners to give the first impression to the tourists visiting a country, even before they arrive at the destination thus a need to set high standards as a key in making sure Rwanda lifts up the entire tourism value chain, and stand above the competition.
“Your achievement is a testimony that you did not just rely on your existing skills and experience, but rather made the choice to learn new skills and grow as professionals because you take your role as tourism front liners at heart,” Rwigamba said.
“Your commitment to improving service delivery is an inspiration to the entire tourism industry in our country, and even in Africa,” she said and noted that the Mastercard Foundation has a renewed commitment to achieve this particular mission.
With a generous grant from the Mastercard Foundation, the initiative has a target of graduating at least 30,000 Rwandan professionals in different domains of tourism and hospitality.
According to Kim Szpiro, Associate Director, Hanga Ahazaza Initiative, Cornell University said they have since 2018 graduated 1,256 graduates from hotels, restaurants, airlines among others.
“This has come with incredible outcomes from the students who have come through our program. Many of them have found that they were being promoted as a result or even during COVID when they were laid off, they felt empowered to go out and start their own businesses because of the knowledge they gained,” Szpiro said.
Szpiro said that as a goal and desire is to hope to see the graduates mentor and nurture other youths that are entering the industry, as a way of giving back to the country to improve the status quo in tourism and hospitality.
Alida Kamanzi Umutoni, one of the Rwandair cabin crew flight attendants said that the training has inspired her to perform better but also think of other business ventures in the industry to promote tourism locally.
“We got managerial and business skills which have opened my mind to thinking of starting a tourism business and managing it even when I am flying all over the world with my crew,” Umutoni said.
Yvonne Makolo, CEO RwandAir said that the airlines has been named the “Best Airline Staff in Africa” (two years in a row) and “Best Cabin crew in Africa” and as management they are proud of the graduates who managed to complete the program, thus a stance for them to represent the company and country.
“We all give the same services in airlines but what distinguishes you is your customer experience, how customers feel when they fly you and you (graduates) have done a good job and also in inspiring other staff when they see you hard working and how you improving thus making them want to join the program,” Makolo said.
Makolo stated that the graduates have embarked on the right path which is in line with the country’s move towards becoming a service-based economy improving services, thus expecting more from the class of 2022.