Friday 11 April 2008

Walk the Talk

I sometimes wonder whether we, as a nation, want to achieve anything or whether we would much prefer just to TALK about achieving things.


We seem to have a national obsession with discussing, over and over and over again, everything that we all already know and with sounding terribly important by using excessively long words and sentences when, to put it bluntly, we should just shut up.


Or perhaps even better than just shutting up we could actually, horror of horrors, DO something?


So what got me all hot under the collar this time?




Mmegi reported on 2nd April on a breakfast seminar hosted by BNPC to think about tourism.  Last Friday there was also a full double-spread from BNPC with pretty pictures of the various attendees all “listening attentively”, making presentations and, errr….  having their photos taken.


OK, I must confess I wasn’t there so I have no particular knowledge of the proceedings but I think I can read between the lines based on what was reported.  Talking about “increased and improved service provision in the tourism sector” the attendees recommended that “a standing committee or networking seminar be revived and that a united product development strategy be instituted”.


As well as all the usual blather about partnership, productivity, policies, priorities and potentials, there was this wonderful quote:


“In improving productivity and competitiveness in the industry, leaders in industry should seek to be the best. That calls for study tours or missions, attachments and forms of benchmarking exercises.”


I’m glad I wasn’t there.  I would have lost the will to live.  We need tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking like we need a hole in the head.  We’ve already had tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking.  We’ve had them all and they achieved precisely nothing.


One of the attendees is quoted as saying that “if we are to provide services in the tourism sector, we need to interrogate the manner in which services are delivered to our clients, both current and prospective”.  I think this can be translated to “We need to think about whether we do stuff right”.


Well, we don’t need to think about it, we just need to see it to establish that we AREN’T doing it right. 


Twice in the last month members of our team have been up north on business.  Twice they’ve stayed in what purport to be good hotels.  One in particular is a household name that rests on the banks of the Chobe, one of our national treasures.  There lies the problem.  This particular hotel relies on it’s environment for it’s reputation.  Frankly the service there sucks considering the amount you have to pay. 


Of course the surroundings are utterly magnificent.  The north of Botswana is genuinely up there with the best.  I know, I’ve seen some of the best.  I’ve seen the sun rise and set over the South China Sea.  I’ve seen New York from the air at night.  I’ve swum in lagoons under waterfalls in the tropical jungle.  My breath has been taken away by Italian cities.  Our country is as good as all of this.


So why do we go out of our way to spoil it all by leaving room service plates on the floor outside a hotel room door for 24 hours?  Why do we permit such a hotel to have a restaurant where the steak is either raw or burned to a cinder?


The infuriating thing was that at the same time I had a visitor from overseas who wanted to see some wildlife.  I dropped him just across the South African border at Buffalo Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve.  The service there was awesome.  The visitor is, right now as you read this, probably back home telling all his friends how Botswana was great but if you want to see the natural wonder you have to go to a different country.


No quantity of tours, missions, attachments and benchmarking will change this even a single bit.  What WILL improve the generally poor level of service we give to tourists is action.  Old-fashioned management action.  Here’s this week’s free suggestion to our new President.  Sir, if you want our tourist sector to be the best then draft the managers of every successful restaurant in Gaborone into the BDF.  Post them to head the hotels in the north and let them demonstrate how to satisfy customers.  To compensate them for the loss of liberty let them keep 50% of the increase in profits that the hotels will undoubtedly make.  A month of having Will from Primi Piatti or Lou from the Caravela up there instilling some discipline into the staff will do wonders.


Discipline, that’s what our tourist sector needs.  When I right-click on the word discipline on my screen and ask for synonyms it gives me regulation, order, control, restraint, authority and obedience.  I know these are all old-fashioned, middle-aged concepts but they are exactly what consumers, whether tourists or not, deserve.


By a bizarre coincidence the same word was mentioned in our new President’s inauguration speech.  He’s obviously a very clever guy.


While discussing the public service he said he wanted to “phase out excessive or counter-productive bureaucracy” and that it “must become optimally efficient, transparent, motivated and disciplined”.   He ended by saying “I hope they are all up to the task because those unable to deliver cannot be kept on the team”. 


Maybe fewer breakfast seminars and more discipline would be a good start?


This week’s stars!


  • Constance at the Thapama Hotel in Francistown for going out of her way to be helpful.
  • TT at Creations of Africa for brilliant service.

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